What's Going On?

Chris A Rutkowski. Abductions and Aliens: What's Really Going On. Dundurn Press, 1999.

Canada's premier ufologist has written a well balanced and useful study of the abduction claims based on his own experiences and researches. He presents the stories of many of the abductees and contactees he has encountered. These demonstrate two things vividly: the wide disparity among abduction claims and the extent to which abduction stories merge into other forms supernatural encounter narratives such as spirit possession and ghost stories. While many of the stories presented by Rutkowski have some classical abduction features, many also have considerable overlaps with earlier contactee stories. Many are told by people who have a strong sense of personal mission. This experience leads Rutkowski to reject both simplistic ends of the spectrum: one which interprets all abductees as delusional, the other which argues they are all perfectly normal.

Rutkowski generally leans towards a general psychosocial interpretation: for some reason, certain people appear to think they have been contacted by aliens. This could be because of various contributing factors: "dissatisfaction with life, stress, domestic .. (or) family problems, peer pressure, rape trauma, chemical imbalances or child abuse. Perhaps anyone of these or any combination of them." (Though he adds "It is even possible that aliens are doing some kidnappings, but that's another matter." I suspect that was meant a a humorous aside). He is deeply critical of the ability of ufologists to act as amateur therapists and suggests that abductees should be assessed by professional psychologists or psychiatrists.

I think a caution should be entered here, I am not sure that these 'professional psychologists or psychiatrists' would be much help unless they were experts in sleep disorders. Looking through many of Rutkowski's cases, we see many which are clearly the product of sleep paralysis episodes, hypnogogic hallucinations, false awakenings, unusually vivid dreams and the like One example is 'Louis' who had a long history of sleep paralysis episodes, and also had hypnogogic images of alien heads. Rutkowski gets Louis to see a clinical psychologist but it seems unclear as to whether this psychologist was really aware of sleep paralysis, even though it is obvious that this was the cause of Louis' anxiety. Instead he seemed to be taking him down the path of his life history, looking for traumatic causes of anxiety. Though Rutkowski mentions sleep paralysis in passing, (wrongly connecting it to night terrors, something else entirely) he doesn't seem to have to taken on board its central role, or its essentially nonpathological character.

Of course some of the people whose stories Rutkowski tells have far more serious problems, and he may be the first ufologist to be honest enough to admit that a significant percentage of abductees (20%?) are at least borderline delusional (although this has earned him a drubbing on Internet discussion forums). Whether these people are indeed schizophrenic or perhaps have extreme forms of phantathesia is unclear. One case involved a depressed young woman who became a contactee for greys, and was persecuted by other types of alien. Both types could only be seen by herself, and she believed they were giving her special powers. Rutkowski rightly connects her experiences with that of the probably schizophrenic 'Barbara O'Brien'. But this is also an old cultural•motif the psychological crisis of the shaman, and similar narratives of distressed women granted special powers by familiars and spirit beings, which appear in the witchcraft trials. In more recent times this young lady may have become a spiritualist medium.

I have to correct one mistake that Rutkowski makes, where he says that I had said that abductees may be "psychological disturbed people, often victims of satanic cults and child abuse". Readers of Magonia will know that I most emphatically do not believe anyone has been the victim of a satanic cult, because that creature just doesn't exist. Rather I was arguing that both abduction memories and satanic abuse memories were fantasies, and those who had these tales may have had Munchhausen's syndrome and/or MPD. However things move on, and there is a growing consensus that MPD is, itself, largely an artifact of the therapists. Best guess from this non-expert is that both 'high hypnotisability' and 'MPD' are connected with enhanced abilities to take on roles given the right social cues. There is nothing fundamentally different in this from an actor getting wholly immersed in a role while playing it.

An interesting side issue in the book, is Rutkowski's critique of Persinger, whose views have been rather uncritically endorsed. Rutkowski points out just how vague some of his claims are, and that for example the catalogues on which he establishes his correlations are filled with very ordinary IFOs, and that the odd feeling produced during his experiments with his magic helmet may be largely due to suggestion. Sceptics as much as believers have a tendency to lower their critical guard when confronted by those who seem to be saying something that we want to hear. This is altogether an important and useful book. - Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 72, October 2000.

1 comment:

Terry the Censor said...

Thanks for posting this review. It is a very fair and non-partisan abduction book, one of the few -- which is probably why US abduction proponents don't cite it.