Oz Encounters

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Keith Basterfield. UFOs: A Report on Australian Encounters. Reed, 1997.

This book, which has only just become available in Britain, is a much expanded and updated edition of his earlier book, Close Encounters of the Australian Kind. and the earlier chapters reproduce much of the text, which follow Basterfield's adventures in ufology, and the process by which he constructed his image theory - that many otherwise inexplicable UFO reports are caused by hypnogogic imagery. This material is still of interest, not least because the earlier book is now quite unobtainable.

In the later chapters, which deal with the events of the 1980s and 1990s, he backs away from the image idea, partially as a result of his study of a physical traces case at Rosedale, and his study of abduction cases. Several of these complex cases are presented, though in at least one the claim by the witness that she was also the victim of sexual abuse has been omitted. He concludes that 'psychological processes' cannot account for abduction narratives, a conclusion partly prompted by what he believes to be the negation of the Fantasy Prone Personality (FPP) theory.

How secure that negation is I am not sure, because I am not aware of the exact criterion for rejection. If the assessment of FPP was based, as it was in Ring's study, on self-assessment questionnaires, then the answers depend on the percipients insight into the imaginative nature of their experiences. Even if the FPP hypothesis grows, the current psycho-social front runner is much more closely bound in with his original image hypothesis. In this, abduction-type experiences represent an extreme edge of a Bell Curve of hypnogogic/sleep disorder experiences. Perhaps one reason why this gets overlooked is that even such a cautious investigator as Basterfield has become led up the garden path of hypnotic regression, rather than, say, sleep laboratory studies.

There is a tendency here to take narrative at face value, thus it is not clear whether independent witnesses (such as the investigators themselves) have observed any of the psychic powers claimed by some abductees, or whether these are just the percipients' own claims, perhaps sometimes backed up by loyal family and friends. Much the same goes for the physical trace case at Rosedale, not actually investigated till a couple of months later, and in spades for the alleged multi-witness abduction at Belgrove. To actually 'investigate' such a complex story would, I suspect, involve using private detectives to examine in detail the lives of the witnesses to prove they had never met before and could not have concocted a hoax. This does not seem to have been done. Of course, we must accept that for both logistical and ethical reasons private UFO groups are unlikely to be able to do this, but that being the case, such stories can never finally be anything other than impenetrable narratives.

It is I think, very significant, that Basterfield concludes that all the photographs submitted to him showing structured objects are fakes. There is never any unambiguous evidence that stands apart from the narratives. The appendix to this book gives a wide range of such narratives, in bare outline, again interesting if true, but chiefly as folklore, for example, how strange marks on the ground are interpreted as marking a manifestation of the supernatural. - Peter Rogerson.

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