Date: Fri Apr 29 1994 23:40:00
From: Pony Godic
Subj: Schnabel/Mack Book Review
The following review, by Dennis Stacy, which appeared in the 9 April 1994 NEW
SCIENTIST, pp 35-36, is for user information only and no infringement of
copyright is intended.
SPACE-AGE SHAMANS OR SHYSTERS?
by Jim Schnabel, Hamish Hamilton,
pp 304, 16.99 pounds.
by John Mack, Scribners/Simon & Schuster,
pp 356, $20/16.99 pounds (May in Britain)
Review by Dennis Stacy
ALONE at night, an individual wakes to find him or herself paralysed,
surrounded by diminutive grey-skinned beings. Aboard a beam of light, the
person floats through walls and windows into a domed, evenly lit room where
they are stripped and subjected to a series of invasive medical procedures.
Needles are inserted and scoops of skin taken, leaving visible scars. Male
abductees are milked of their sperm, females have their ova forcibly extracted.
A genetically altered egg is then reinserted, and the half-human, half-alien
fetus later removed well before term. Either parent may be reabducted, shown
the body, and asked to hold or nurse it. Such is the "typical" UFO abduction
scenario, if anything about the alleged experience can be said to be typical.
And, according to believers in the US, alien abductions are on the up and up.
Proponents of the phenomenon, such as Harvard University's professor of
psychiatry, John Mack, point to a 1991 Roper Organization poll of 6000 American
adults and claim that as many as 3.9 million Americans - about one in fifty -
may be alleging that they have undergone an abduction. Of course, there are
differing views. Jim Schnabel, a journalist and sociology student, believes
there is much less to abdution mania than first meets the eye or ear. "Dark
White," his second book, is a mordant, often amusing romp through the American
UFO community in general and abduction research in particular. At one point
Schnabel finds himself sitting in on a regressive hypnosis session (apparently
the preferred method of investigation) while a female abductee recounts being
taken aboard a flying saucer and encountering former Secretary General of the
United Nations, Javier Perez de Cuellar. A few nights later, after a fruitless
search for an underground cavern allegedly used as a staging point by the
abducting aliens, he is parked on a lonely country road in West Virginia with
the same abductee, waiting for something celestial to happen. But Godot never
shows, and neither do the cosmic gynaecologists. At the apogee of the abduction
spectrum is Mack himself, a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1977 for his
psychoanalytical biography of T.E. Lawrence. It seems safe to say, however,
that the Pulitzer jury won't be out long on "Abduction: Human Encounters with
Aliens," which could rank as one of the most credulous books ever written,
primarily because there is so little in the way of follow-up investigation and
physical corroboration. The author apparently only has to hear one of his
abuctees say or emote something to accept it as gospel truth. And if
testimony, typically recovered under hypnosis, is sometimes absurd, then we'll
just have to overturn a few Western scientific paradigms to accommodate same.
Remarkably, such revelations, not to mention those of "missing fetuses" and
alien "implants," do not raise any warning flags in the author's mind. Instead,
we are assured that while "abductees are, with rare exception, highly
hypnotizable," they are also "peculiarly unsuggestible." Try as he might, Mack
just cannot mislead his subjects with misleading questions. But a few pages on,
when one of his hypnotised subjects balks at walking up a metal ramp leading
into a spaceship, Mack suggests "a trick or game we might play in which she
would stand at the base of the ramp and send an imaginary puppet-spy with his
eyes closed up into the ship with instructions to open his eyes upon our
command and report back to her what he saw." The trick succeeds. The plodding
style, alas is typical. Rack his brain as he may, Mack just cannot find any
precendent for the abduction phenomenon in his clinical experience. The
emotions relived under hypnosis, he argues, are just too raw and convincing.
Something untoward and profound has happened to these people he claims. Unlike
his fellow abductionists, who tend to equate alien body-snatching with the
trauma of rape, Mack finds the experience ultimately positive and
transformative in nature, comparing abductees to modern day Dantes. Schnabel,
however, surveys the available psychological and medical literature and finds
many related alternatives that need full consideration before alien invaders
are invoked, beginnning with temporal lobe lability, sleep and paralysis.
In the former, according to Canadian psychologist Michael Persinger, temporal
lobe "microseizures" could arguably engender many of the sensations reported
by abductees, since that part of the brain is so intimately connected with
memory and a sense of self and can be a source of hallucinations, audio and
visual. In sleep paralysis, victims often report awakening, paralysed, with
the sense of another presence in the room. And then there are your standard
out-of-body experiences and even simple dream sensations of flying.
The problem is complicated by the cultural milieu in the US, which is
famously top-heavy with therapies and therapists and awash with claims of
physical and psychological trauma suffered at the hands of others - from
sexually abusive parents to ritual satanic cults. Interestingly, as with
abductions, many of these recovered "memories" are retrieved via hypnosis and
immersion in support groups. Indeed, some practitioners have identified what
they refer to as FMS, the false memory syndrome.
But patients may not be the only sheep led astray. Specifically, Schnabel
cites Munchhausen syndrome, often difficult to diagnose because it involves
convinging physical "symptoms," including self-inflicted injuries, to elicit
medical and/or other therapeutic attention. Sufferers from Munchhausen's-by-
proxy inflict the injries as a child; usually the female parent is the one with
Overall, Schnabel writes "it seems plausible that some or all cases of
alleged alien abduction, satanic ritual abuse, multiple personality disorder,
spirit-possession, and demonic oppression might be understood not merely as
"unusual experiences" but as self-victimisation syndromes - that is, syndromes
in which the goal of the symptoms or behaviour is the fulfilment of the role of
Mack pleads that if we are to understand the abduction experience we may
have to first jettison our current, self-destructive paradigms about the nature
of reality. But "Dark White" leaves the distinct impression that when it comes
to UFO abductions, and much else about modern Western society, both Pogo and
old Baron would have been more than proud. It was Pogo, a popular American
cartoon figure who first said: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
(Dennis Stacy is based in San Antonio, Texas. He edits a montly UFO journal).