Remembering Memories

Robert A. Baker. Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions from Within, Prometheus Books, New York, 1996.

As this book is published by Prometheus many readers will guess correctly that it is written by a dedicated sceptic. There are the usual constant reminders to us as to what we should or should not believe, but those who are not too irritated by the preachy tone will find this a useful guide to the psychology behind alleged psychic experiences, UFO abductions and the like. The discussions on hypnosis, cryptomnesia, confabulation, delusions and hallucinations are particularly valuable to anyone who is serious about attempting to evaluate fantastic tales presented as fact. UFO abduction stories have never caused as much trouble as child-abuse stories.

This is undoubtedly because stories of child sexual abuse are much more plausible, and child abuse undoubtedly does happen. Baker vividly illustrates how false accusations can create havoc. He cites the case of Judy Johnson, of Manhattan Beach, California, who in August 1983 complained to police that her son had been molested by a man called Mr Ray at the McMartin Preschool over a three month period, even though the boy had attended this man's class on only two afternoons. Despite the fact that her complaints against him became more and more bizarre and that she went on to make similar accusations against her estranged husband and three health-club employees, the people named by her were charged with various offences. The case finally collapsed after Mrs Johnson was hospitalised and diagnosed as an acute paranoid schizophrenic. In 1986 she died of an alcohol related liver disease.

Such false accusations and the hysteria generated by credulous reactions to them not only cause deep distress to many innocent people, but make it more difficult to bring to light real cases of child abuse. With regard to UFO abduction stories, Baker claims that " ... it is dearly evident that a very large proportion of the abduction stories are due to the suggestive influence of the therapist." He goes on to say that "If the therapist is a well trained, experienced professional...most abduction claims would not surface." This book is a reprint, so it was obviously written before Dr John Mack appeared on the UFO abduction scene. We now know that even professionals are not immune from such nonsense, so the situation would appear to be even worse than Baker had supposed. In this context the following passage is well worth quoting: "The problem is that there are hundreds of undiagnosed schizophrenics who are able to function quite normally most of the time. They can hold a job, take care of their personal needs, interact effectively with people around them, and appear, superficially, to be perfectly normal. They do, however, show one little abnormality which gives them away if they finally do come to the attention of a trained and qualified therapist."

Now if this abnormality in some cases happens to be a belief in alien abductions, then this would explain a lot; Hopkins, Mack, Jacobs, Sprinkle, etc. are schizophrenics. This is all very well, but we all have our peculiarities and personal idiosyncrasies. We can't all be mad, can we? Anyway, read this book and perform your own diagnosis. – Peter Rogerson. Magonia 60, August 1977

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