Imagining the Imagination

Dennis Stillings. (Editor). Cyberbiological Studies of the Imaginal Component in the UFO Contact Experience. Archaeus, 1989.

Anthologies are a reviewers nightmare; one is so tempted to run through the contents item by item and take up a massive amount of space, or sweep them up in a few sentences. This anthology, containing material dating over the best part of a decade is no easier to sum up. Despite the horrendous title there is much of interest here. However the 'New Age' physics which some of the authors resort to, and which once seemed so significant, now just seems very dated, the scientific equivalent of flared loons.

None of this in Hilary Evans's opening piece which seeks to explain how intelligent people can take such - to outsiders - absurdities as Bien Boa or Gulf Breeze, as genuine paranormal phenomena. He describes an escalation of suspension of disbelief, a process not unknown in politics and religion. This may well be related to the escalation of paranoid thought described by Martin Kottmeyer. This does not mean that we should accept his psychoanalytical interpretation of paranoia, which more neurologically biased psychologists have related to partial failure of the brain's information processing and ranking system. The paranoid tends to find the trivial of equal significance to the ordinary. This theory holds that the delusional system which results is an attempt to rationalise this sense of universal significance. This interpretation gels nicely with the radical misperception involved in many UFO experiences. Explaining the stimulus (a distant aircraft or star, for instance) as a 'UFO' also explains its increased personal significance. Paranoid thought processes involving conspiracy may also have a reassurance value, in that they suggest something is in control, and ordering the chaos of our existence.

Also in sceptical/psychological vein are pieces by Alvin Lawson on the birth trauma, and Michael Persinger on temporal lobe epilepsy. Lawson’s study probably does not advance us much beyond the position in Magonia 10, though providing ammunition for anti-abortionists. Persinger's findings, if replicated, may be significant, as they correspond nicely with some remarks by Jenny Randles on the abductees she has studied, and which I commented on in my last article. Editor Stillings' papers are always interesting and in his review of reactions to Jung's Flying Saucers he neatly shows how Jung's subtleties were lost on nuts-and-bolts ufologists, who were desperate to have a Big Name on their side!

No doubt it is Stillings' comments on the Cash--Landrum case or Tony Nugent's comments on Pascagoula which evoke the horrified cries of 'literary criticism' from those who fail to perceive that so-called UFO cases are just that - narratives, as subject to literary conventions as The Tempest or The Wasteland. Nugent’s perception that the Pascagoula object is seen as a great fish rather than a spaceship has been missed by other, more engineering-minded, ufologists. Both Nugent and Stillings would love the story of the British abductees who was on TV with Hilary Evans and Tim Good a while back, who saw a fiery object like a phantom ship all ablaze, and whose chief sequela were, by her own narration, barrenness ("all my eggs were taken away"), and a series of episodes in which her workplace name-badge became red hot and her name disappeared from it. The connections between barrenness, heat and fire do not have to be spelled out.

The contributions of Carl Raschke, Peter Rojcewicz and Michael Grosso are the ones where the shadow of 'New Age' and Big Sur hang heavy. Rojcewicz starts with a nice folkloric account of the UFO experience, which seem to indicate someone with a realisation that modern ufolore is part of the old fairylore and who appreciates the concept of experiential folklore. But he just has to make the old ritual obeisance towards New Age and alternate realities.

Michael Grosso writes like an abductee himself, for he echoes the sense of powerlessness and desperate hope against hope of the revivalist through the ages. In the closing words of his chapter he almost collapses into terminal apocalyptophobia. He is wrong of course. While conditions may be bad now, they are much better than say 150 years ago, when there was a huge infant mortality rate, cholera and syphilis ravaged the towns, chimneys poured out lethal mixtures and famine ravaged Africa, but without TV to cover it. It is irrational belief in the unique dreadfulness of our age which helps generate the helplessness of the abduction experience.

A word should be given to the illustrations in this book, which show UFO style imagery in a variety of paintings. I was struck by Ciurlionis's The Thought (1904) which shows a hemisphere with two powerful beams of light coming from beneath it.

I can recommend this collection to all who like Jungian and literary approaches to the subject, and advise believers in Gulf Breeze and MJl2 to stay well a way. -- Peter Rogerson, Magonia 37, October 1990.

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