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Reflections on Abduction Studies

Date: Thu, 19 Sep 1996 11:29:58 -0400
From: UFO UpDates - Toronto 
Subject: UFO UpDate: Historical File - Reflections on Abduction Studies

From The Bulletin of Anomalous Experiences
(Published, in Toronto, by David Gotlib M.D.)

December 1993 Issue


By David Gotlib, M.D.

As BAE was created to be a forum for discussion and debate, it seems
fitting to lead into its fifth year with another invitation to
participate. In this editorial I offer some observations about three
particular issues in abduction studies of interest to me. I make no
claim that I have the answers to the questions I ask, nor that I have
any special insight into the nature of the abduction experience.
Rather, I present the following thoughts in the spirit of
understanding and inquiry, and with the hope that the discussion which
follows will be both stimulating and illuminating.

I. CE-IVs and the Virgin Mary

Abductions are said by some to be unique experiences, unexplainable by
current ways of thinking because of the consistency of stories,
associated physical signs, reports of abductions by children, the
absence of psychopathology in experiencers, and the association with

These criteria support the argument that abductions are not
explainable as artifacts of the mind, but they do not support the
uniqueness of the abduction experience. All these characteristics are
also true of reports of visions of the Virgin Mary (Grosso, Frontiers
of the Soul, 1992):

1. Consistent stories: There is a consistent scenario associated with
   Marian apparitions: Annunciation, appearance, identification and
   message. Mary's message is consistent from vision to vision, and
   identical in theme to the ETs: "The world is on the verge of
   catastrophe; the Marian Goddess is here to warn us of this and to
   show the path of prevention. The only way to save the world is
   through spiritual renovation."

2. Physical signs: Marian apparitions are associated with healings,
   thermal effects (such as at Fatima where the countryside suddenly
   dried up after a torrential rainstorm), and materializations (of
   flowers, tears, or water).

3. Reports in children: Mary is seen by children as well as by adults
   (at Fatima, the three principal seers were children).

4. Absence of psychopathology: No psychopathology has been noted, at
   least in validated appearances.

5. Association with UFOs: Mary herself is frequently associated with
   unusual aerial phenomena: A flash or beam of light, an angel in the
   sky, or as a cloud, globe, or bird of light; Mary herself appears
   within a brilliant, supernormal light.

The parallel between abductions and visions of the Virgin Mary is not
a new idea. Nor is the possible connection between abduction
phenomenology and other anomalous experiences (e.g., NDEs, mystical
experiences, shamanism and perhaps even channeling) a novel concept.
Michael Grosso, Peter Rojcewicz, Kenneth Ring and Jacques Vallee,
among others, have all been eloquent proponents of the need to view
abductions in a broader context. (See, for example, Cyberbiological
Studies of the Imaginal Component in the UFO Contact Experience.
Archaeus Volume 5, edited by Dennis Stillings for excellent papers by
Grosso and Rocjewicz). Yet the idea that these phenomena are all
related is antithetical to the central thrust of abduction study
today, which is to demonstrate that abductions are literally real
events perpetrated by extraterrestrials in spacecraft, and that
(depending on your convictions) the government knows this and has in
its possession (fragments of) a spacecraft and alien corpses. It's
hard to figure out how the Virgin Mary fits into this scenario.

A revision of our view of reality which accounts for the abduction
experience must also account at least for Marian apparitions and
probably a wide variety of other unusual experiences. Yet there is
little interaction between the abduction field and those studying
other anomalies. I am thinking here not only of researchers studying
individual anomalies or types of spiritual/mystical experiences, but
also of those in the field of transpersonal psychology, a field which
attempts to study the broad range of such experiences. The culture of
abductions discourages such collaboration, because it is devoted less
to research into the true nature of abductions than to proving one
particular hypothesis: That abductions are literally real.

And given the difficulty the field has in gaining respectability, it
is not hard to see why abduction researchers would not be inclined to
consort with religious visionaries, parapsychologists, mystics, and
shamans (and vice versa). Cont. next page.

The five criteria noted at the beginning of this section really define
a category of anomalous experiences, of which the abduction experience
is just one member. I think abduction studies would greatly benefit
from a greater emphasis on cross-cultural and multidisciplinary
studies. To help stimulate this multidisciplinary discussion, I
recently sent complimentary copies of BAE to the members of the
Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and several recipients
have decided to subscribe. I look forward to their contributions to
BAE. Readers are invited to suggest the names of other organizations
whose members might be interested in reading and contributing to BAE.

II. Personal Validation

Personal validation, the tendency to accept a particular meaning or
explanation as correct if it feels right to, or has an "inner
resonance" with, the subject (the latter a phrase used in Richard
Boylan's Close Extraterrestrial Encounters, p.172), is a key part of
the abduction experience. Many abduction investigators rely heavily
upon personal validation because of the paucity of objective data. The
overwhelming majority of the data in abduction research consists of
subjective experience, whether conscious memory or hypnotic recall.
Physical evidence in an abduction case, where it occurs, is usually
ambiguous, and at best only circumstantially corroborates the reported
abduction experience. There is no directly examinable physical
evidence (such as a fragment of spaceship, an alien body, an alien
fetus or tissue from a missing pregnancy, a photograph of an ET),
available for general examination by Ufologists, that incontrovertibly
proves that abductions are literally real.

Belief in personal validation is being asserted more boldly as a
self-evident truth as support groups and magazines for abductees
surface. For instance, Richard Boylan, in his recent book Close
Extraterrestrial Encounters (reviewed last issue), says: "It is a
characteristic of any substantive message, that the truthfulness of it
can be discerned by the inner resonance of the particular message with
what we already know to be true". [See Dr. Boylan's comments on this
and other questions elsewhere in this issue].

A recent abductee support group notice states that "people know what
they see, feel and experience." But subjective reality does not always
accurately reflect external reality. Central to many psychiatric
syndromes and counseling problems is the fact that the patient's
perception of external reality is not accurate. Treatment involves
helping the patient to perceive this reality more accurately.

In the more conventional areas of my therapeutic practice, I do not
find personal validation to be a reliable indicator of the correct
diagnosis or treatment approach. One example is the use of
antidepressants to treat endogenous depression or anxiety disorders
such as panic attacks. Much of the time when patients agree to this
treatment, they do not have an inner resonance that this is the right
course of action. They agree to try it because of logical arguments
and professional opinion(s) in favour of it, and/or because other
treatment strategies have not been effective. When it works (sometimes
with dramatic effect) they are quite surprised.

People with depressive and anxiety disorders try to make sense of
their symptoms with the information available to them. In some cases
of chronic depression, clients are so used to the way they feel that
depression does not feel abnormal to them. They are unable either to
internally validate the premise that they are depressed, or experience
that inner sense of rightness about the diagnosis, since their brain,
having been depressed for so long, has no experience of happiness or
comfort to draw on, nor can it simulate or evoke such feelings.

Furthermore, they will often cite reasons why they should feel they
way they do (personal or business failures, past trauma, or
characterological features - "It's just the way I am").

In these situations personal validation is completely wrong, and
reliance on it can deprive the client of an effective (sometimes
life-saving) treatment.

(Some of these patients seek medical help because they have read an
article about Prozac, or have heard antidepressants discussed on a
talk show, and have recognized themselves in the "before" profile.
This scenario is similar to how some abductees present for
investigation or counselling.)

For some abduction investigators, only one thing can negate the
experiencer's sense of personal validation: the investigator's own
personal validation, based on his or her interpretive model of the

When an experience that is recalled with an abductee's personal sense
of rightness diverges from the researcher's model, the model tends to
wins out over personal validation. This is true for both the
"repression" and the "victimatization" camps in the abduction field:
David Jacobs insists that if you feel positive about your abduction
experience, you are repressing a traumatic memory which needs to be
uncovered through hypnotism, while Richard Boylan argues that if you
feel traumatized by your experience then you are victimized by human
abuse, or by governmental psychological warfare, or have been
influenced by the investigator.

These comments on personal validation say nothing about whether
abductions are literally real, or whether personal validation in
abduction cases really is reliable (it might be, but I think this has
yet to be proven). Personal validation is not a scientific criterion,
and therefore research, diagnostic or treatment methodology which rely
heavily based on experiencers' personal validity is less likely to
persuade mainstream science (and mental health professionals in
particular) to accept the legitimacy of the abduction field than
approaches which rely on more objective criteria.

III. Abductions and Social Action: A Research Idea

I have a number of research questions pertaining to the abduction
experience, and I don't have the time or resources to pursue them all.
Here is one such question.

Part of some CE-IV experiences is a conviction that the abductors are
deeply concerned about the possibility of global or ecological
catastrophe. As a result, many experiencers develop "the sense of a
shared mission between humanity and other forms of intelligence to
preserve and protect life on the planet" as Ken Ring noted in the
Omega Project.

How effective is the CE-IV experience in actually changing
experiencers' behaviors in this direction? To what extent are
experiencers actively involved in promoting ecological and other
social causes? Are they more or less active than the general
population? Than individuals who have had religious visions (like
seeing the Virgin Mary), "spiritual emergence" experiences or other
kinds of religious or spiritual transformations? Than active members
of organized religion? Than near-death experiencers?

I am not aware of any scientific research into this question. I am not
even sure there is data as to what proportion of experiencers who
discern such a message (or a message of any kind) in their experience
(a) disbelieve the message, (b) neither believe nor disbelieve the
message, and (c) substantially accept the message.

More research questions: Does the likelihood of an experiencer
engaging in social action change if they participate in an
investigation of their experience as compared to treatment for the
abduction experience, as compared to neither? Does the likelihood of
engaging in social action change with frequency of abduction
experiences? Does it change with the passage of time since the
abduction experience? With number of hypnosis sessions?

Readers are invited to share their thoughts about the above, as well
as their own research questions, in these pages.



Errol Bruce-Knapp  (
UFO UpDates - Toronto - 416-932-0031

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of UFO-related phenomena

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