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The abduction phenomenon is an umbrella term used to describe a number of hypotheses, claims or assertions stating that non-human creatures kidnap individuals—sometimes called "abductees"—usually for medical testing or for sexual reproduction procedures. Many such encounters are described as terrifying or humiliating, but others describe them as transformative or even pleasant. Reports of the abduction phenomenon have been made from around the world, but have perhaps seen most mainstream attention in the United States.

Skeptics tend to doubt that the phenomenon occurs literally as reported, and a wide variety of alternate explanations have been proposed (see below). Rather, such skeptics often argue that the phenomenon might be characterised as a type of modern-day folk myth.

Overview Edit

While few mainstream scientists believe the phenomenon literally occurs as reported—some experts contend the field is essentiallypseudoscience—there is little doubt that many apparently stable and sincere persons report alien abductions they believe are utterly genuine: 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, confabulating, lying, self-dramatizing, or suffering from a clear mental illness,' he maintained. He has encountered only one person who showed psychotic features." [1]

Stigma and self-doubt may be obstacles to more widespread study and/or reporting of the phenomenon, whatever its origins or explanation.

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.

Others still 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 is 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)

Even hearing a tape recording of (or watching a video recording of) a hypnotic regression session can be a chilling experience, leaving little doubt to some observers that the individual is either an accomplished actor, or genuinely believes they are reliving a horrifying experience. Once hypnotized and supposedly recalling an abduction event, some people relate the event calmly, while others may beg pathetically 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 favourable reception from the public."


Tb alien

Hand drawn picture depicting an EBE

Although different cases vary in detail (sometimes significantly), some argue that there is a broad, fairly consistent sequence and description of events which make up the typical "close encounter of the fourth kind". ("Abduction" in an extension of 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. There has been some debate over the subject, and 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.

As folklorist Dr. Thomas E. Bullard has noted (his essay is reprinted in Clark, 1998), most abduction accounts feature the following events. They generally follow the sequence noted below, though not all abductions feature all the events:

  1. Capture (Abductees taken from room/area and find themselves in the "ship")
  2. Examination (Probes inserted in different areas, etc.)
  3. Conference ("Aliens" speak with abductees)
  4. Tour (Not always described but some abductees claim to be shown the ship)
  5. Loss of Time (Many abductees suffer from periods of time removed from their memory, often coming back to them later)
  6. Return (Returned, sometimes with environmental changes)
  7. Theophany (a profound mystical experience, a feeling of oneness with God or the universe)
  8. Aftermath (Sickness, new phobias, ridicule, etc.)

Such alleged abductions are often closely connected to UFO reports, and are sometimes supposedly conducted by so-called Greys: Short, grey-skinned humanoids with large, pear-shaped heads and enormous dark eyes.

In his books on the subject, Harvard Medical School professor Dr. John Edward Mack explained that common features of alien abduction experiences in North America include the feeling of paralysis; the perception of having been transported immaterially, frequently through a beam of light; the sense of having been surgically probed or implanted with devices; the freezing or slowing of time; and sexual or reproductive contact or manipulation by the aliens.

There are however cultural differences in perception of these reported incidents. The frightening "terror abduction" experience is reported mainly in the USA, while in the rest of the world, the ET encounters are said to be largely benevolent -- this apparent incongruity perhaps raising a question as to the phenomenon's origins.

As noted above, the so-called Greys are most popularly associated with abduction reports. Again, however, this seems to be a North American paradigm best-known since the 1980s. On the contrary, some researchers (such as Kevin D. Randle in his 1997 book, Faces Of The Visitors: An Illustrated Reference To Alien Contact) have noted a vast variety of alleged creatures have been reported in abduction accounts worldwide, with some of the alleged creatures not even described as humanoid.

Although in North America, "aliens" of extraterrestrial origin are the most commonly blamed in these incidents, in Europe and other parts of the world, the beings involved are as often perceived to be demonic or spiritual in origin. Common elements in the descriptions of abductions and visitations vary by region and local culture, with only a very few elements being the same worldwide, such as an other worldly sensation, reports of mind control, repressed memories being rediscovered, and sexual experiences. These elements, and many aspects of what witnesses describe, are very common in old stories of encounters with faeries, demons, and other magical creatures.

In many abduction reports, the individual(s) concerned are often travelling 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. 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) typically will experience a blank period and amnesia, after which they will find themselves again standing in front of their car. While they very often will not consciously remember the experience, either subsequent nightmares or hypnosis will reveal an often harrowing and invasive medical examination, sometimes involving the removal or insertion of reproductive material. In some older cases, there were also occasional reports of abductees exhibiting symptoms consistent with nuclear radiation sickness.

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 nonhypnotized observers and sometimes by other hypnotized witnesses" (Donderi, 66)


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). Even earlier was the 1951 case of Fred Reagan, which was publicized by Flying Saucer Review in the late 1960s. Bizarre even by alien abduction standards, T. Peter Park devotes a few paragraphs to the case in a 2004 article. [2]

Widespread publicity was generated by the Barney and Betty 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 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. 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. The UFO contactees of the 1950s claimed to have contacted aliens, but the substance of contactee narratives were often quite different from alien abduction accounts.

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 seen.

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.

The 1980s brought a major degree of mainstream attention to the subject. Works by Budd Hopkins, Whitley Strieber, David Michael Jacobs and John Mack presented alien abduction as a genuine phenomenon; the very popular X Files television program featured alien abduction as a central theme.

The mid and late 1980s saw the involvement of two esteemed academic figures: Harvard psychiatrist John Mack and historian David Michael 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.

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 Michael Jacobs were instrumental in popularising 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 criticised 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.

John MackEdit

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.

Mack was somewhat more guarded in his investigations and interpretations of the abduction phenomenon than the earlier researchers. Matheson writes that "On balance, Mack does present as fair-minded an account as has been encountered to date, at least as these abduction narratives go." (Matheson, 251) Furthermore, Mack notes when alternative interpretations are viable; throughout Abduction, his first book on the subject, he allows and even considers likely that alien abductions are a new type of visionary experience.

Matheson notes that unlike earlier abduction researchers, Mack is generally quite cautious in his interpretations of physical evidence and corroborative testimony. He places little value in the scars and scratches often attributed to alien "medical" exams, and argues that trying to prove the actuality of alleged "implants" placed in abductees is largely a futile effort.

Mack argued that the abduction phenomenon might be the beginning of a major paradigm shift in human consciousness, or "a kind of fourth blow to our collective egoism, following those of Copernicus, Darwin and Freud." (Bryan, 270) Mack also noted that, after an initial period of terror and confusion (a phase he dubbed "ontological shock"), many abductees ultimately regard their experiences more positively, saying that their experiences broadened their consciousness.

In June 1992, Mack co-organized a five-day conference at MIT to discuss and debate the abduction phenomenon.[3] 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.B. Bryan attended the conference, initially intending to gather information for a short humorous article for The New Yorker. While attending the confernece, 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.

The Roper PollEdit

In 1991, Hopkins, Jacobs and sociologist Dr. Ron Westrum commissioned a Roper Poll in order to determine how many Americans might have experienced the abduction phenomenon. Of nearly 6,000 Americans, 119 answered in a way that Hopkins et al interpreted as supporting their ET interpretation of the abduction phenomenon. Based on this figure, Hopkins et al estimated that nearly four million Americans might have been abuducted by extraterrestrials. The poll results are available at this external link: The Roper Poll: UFOs & Extraterrestrial Life, Americans' Beliefs and Personal Experiences

However, critics have argued that there were significant problems with the poll's methodology which should invalidate the results. Writing in Skeptical Inquirer, psychologist Susan Blackmore notes that based on her analysis, "I conclude that the claim of the Roper Poll, that 3.7 million Americans have probably been abducted, is false."[4]

Interpretations, analyses and proposed explanationsEdit

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.

  • 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 or experts.
  • 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.[5]
  • It is possible that some alleged abductees may be mentally unstable or under the influence of recreational drugs, though, as noted above in one sampling of abductees studied by Mack, most abductees were "ordinary" people from all walks of life, and without obvious mental illness.
  • Especially criticised as unreliable is frequent reliance on hypnosis. It has been demonstrated that false memories are often very easily created, and that hypnosis can unintentionally aid in confabulation. Some abductees, however, report vivid, detailed accounts without hypnosis.
    • However, Budd Hopkins writes, " ... the Hill case bears upon one popular theory which has been widely but uncritically accepted by many skeptics: the idea that such accounts must have been implanted by hypnosis, consciously or unconsciously, or by manipulative practitioners who 'believe in' the reality of such events. Simon, who hypnotized the Hills, was avowedly skeptical about the reality of the Hills' abduction recollections. Yet the Hills stubbornly held to their interlocking, hypnotically recovered accounts despite Simon's suggestions at the end of treatment that their memories could not be literally true. It can therefore be concluded that the bias of the hypnotist had nothing to do with the content of their hypnotic recall." (emphasis as in original; Hopkins, 218) Hopkins also cites three therapists (Drs. Robert Naiman, Aphrodite Clamar and Girard Franklin) who were quite skeptical of the reality of abduction claims, yet who all uncovered detailed abduction scenarios from their patients. (Hopkins, 218)
  • UFO researcher Jenny Randles cited "an interesting study in which individuals were asked to describe imaginary alien abductions." (Bryan, 49) If these invented scenarios were similar to allegedly genuine abduction accounts, it might demonstrate that supposedly genuine accounts were indistinguishable from invented accounts. The study, however, found little in common between the two types of narratives. Bryan writes "Randles's findings strike me as significant: people who are asked to describe imaginary abductions do not come up with the scenarios, sequences or Beings described by the overwhelming majority of abductees. The 'medical examination,' such a major, recurring aspect of the abductees stories, is entirely absent from the imaginers accounts." (Bryan, 49)
  • Skeptics argue that the raw details of abduction accounts have been featured in science fiction since at least the 1930s, and that these details have had widespread currency, thereby influencing and shaping expectations of what an encounter with extraterrestrials might entail. For example, a 1935 issue of Amazing Stories featured on its cover an illustration of a being with large eyes and a large head who was restraining a human from entering a room where another human was reclined on a table with another large-eyed creature examining her. [6]
    • Others have argued against this idea; folklorist Thomas E. Bullard asks, "If Hollywood is responsible for these images, where are the monsters? Where are the robots?" (Bryan, 50).
    • In answering Bullard's question, monsters and robots in fact are reported by abductees. In abduction cases investigated by UK UFO researcher Jenny Randles, "none involved the traditional gray figures conducting medical examinations seen the United States. What entities did appear were mostly human or Nordic. But there was a range of others, from monsters to robots." (Randles) Again, this might represent a cultural difference: Bullard is American, Randles is from the UK.
  • 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.
  • In The Demon-Haunted World astronomer Carl Sagan wrote about the theory 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, psychologist Rick Strassman found that approximately 20% of volunteers injected with high doses of DMT had experiences identical to purported Alien Abductions.
  • 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. [7]

Michael Persinger's analysisEdit

In a long article, Dr. Michael Persinger argues that most of the features of the abduction phenomenon can be explained as the manifestation of measurable functions of the human brain. Persinger writes that the "main theme" of his article "is to explore visitation experiences, now attributed by many people to UFO and implicitly "extraterrestrial' phenomena, from the perspective of modern neuroscience... From an operational perspective, the average visitation experience attributed to an alien entity is indiscriminable from average mystical or religious experience attributed to gods and to spirits. Instead we have been trying to isolate those areas of the brain and those electromagnetic patterns within the brain that are involved with the general visitation experience." (Persinger, 263)

He goes on to argue that "Nearly every basic element of mystical, religious, and visitor experience has been evoked with electrical stimulation" of test subjects' brains. (Persinger, 270). Individuals with some forms of epilepsy often experience vivid hallucination, and Persinger suggests that the same areas of the brain are activated in these individuals as in those who experience extraordinary visitations.

"Most people who report these experiences [alien abduction] display average to above average intelligence, are not 'crazy' and are very aware of the social and personal consequences of their experiences upon their families, friends and vocational opportunities." (Persinger, 278)

Persinger relates a specific case of a "thirty-five year old woman" who "reported ... the presence of multiple, elongated humanoids, in shimmering gray-silver clothes, that would surround her bed for a few nights every month." The woman hesitated to tell her regular physician of the encounters, for fear that she'd be seen as "crazy". (Persinger, 278) The woman was prescribed a low dose of "the antiepileptic compound carbamazepine" and after regular use of the medication, the visitations "disappeared". Persinger is quick to note that "This does not indicate that all people who report visitor experiences associated with UFOs are undiagnosed epileptics or that the phenomena will cease when with this particular medication. Instead, it indicated that well-formed and meaningful experiences, attributed to alien sources and sufficient in magnitude to disrupt the person's sense of self and adaptability, can be associated with periods of electrical activity that can be affected by treatments not typically associated with these types of experiences." (Persinger, 278)

He also cites polls indicating that up to one third of people have had some sort of similar experience: 39% of more than 1700 people polled over 20 years have answered "yes" to the question "At least once in my life very late at night, I have felt the presence of another Being." (Persinger, 280). Given that visitor experiences are somewhat common, and that worldwide, they tend to follow the same patterns, Persinger suggests that while underlying neurological factors give the experience its basic form, how such events are interpreted is shaped by cultural factors: "Because human brains are more similar than they are different, the themes of these experiences have been and remain remarkably similar across space and time. The details are simply punctuation from the person's culture." (Persinger, 296)

Persinger's hypothesis ties into another observation that alien abduction is in many regards similar to shamanic initiations.

See alsoEdit

References & BibliographyEdit

External linksEdit

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