Date: Fri Mar 11 1994 07:48:56
From: Sheppard Gordon
Subj: Virginity Thieves
Aliens stole my virginity
03/06/94 THE TIMES OF LONDON
Dark White: Aliens, Abductions And The UFO Obsession by Jim Schnabel, H
Hamilton Pounds 16.99 pp304.
The forms that psychiatric symptoms take appear fairly fixed; it is their
content that changes from culture to culture, epoch to epoch. Hence there are
delusions and hallucinations the world over but what the hallucinated hear and
the deluded believe is heavily coloured and moulded by their context. In the
19th century, if the records of the Bethlehem Hospital are anything to go by,
the psychiatrically ill were preoccupied by sex and religion. Today's patients
are more troubled by hypochondriacal worries about cancer, political
interference involving the CIA, the KGB and the IRA and, to judge by the
contents of Jim Schnabel's beguiling book, by kidnapping and exposure to a
myriad of sexual and gynaecological indignities by aliens from outer space.
The abductees, as Schnabel courteously terms them, currently pour into the
offices of America's psychotherapists, telling stories of dark deeds in sterile
operating chambers aboard gleaming spaceships humming with hi-tech machinery.
His ironic, wry account contains all the classic UFO stories, each one of them
worthy of a Spielberg movie. There is Richard Shaver who, in 1943, began to be
interrupted by strange voices and forced to do things he didn't want to do.
Psychotic? No a strange race of aliens, inhabiting the centre of the earth,
were focusing deleterious rays on the benighted man. Eventually, they took him
down to their underworld where a siren named Nydia tried to get him to engage
in forms of sexual behaviour shocking to a crane-operator from Detroit.
In an earlier age, he might have been dispatched to the local mental asylum,
but the 1940s were to provide the overture for the great UFO opera which plays
to vast houses to this day. Reports were already appearing regularly of
sightings of strange objects and lights in the sky. By the 1960s, reports of
abductions by 5ft humanoids, with putty-coloured heads and a propensity for
conducting medical examinations (with special attention to the reproductive
organs), had reached epidemic proportions. By the 1980s, the accounts had
become utterly ridiculous which did not prevent millions of people believing
A typical account is that provided by science writer Whitley Strieber, who
described being hauled out of his bedroom by the blue meanies and into a messy
chamber with a vaulted ceiling, where the atmosphere reeked of Cheddar cheese
and the aliens smelled like cardboard and cinnamon and zapped his head with a
needle. Following a rather unpleasant session with a female alien and a scaly
proctoscope, he woke to find himself naked on his living-room couch, whereupon
he calmly went upstairs, cleaned his teeth and went to bed.
Given the well-known psychological law that there is nothing so far-fetched
that a sizeable number of seemingly reasonable people won't believe, the
wildest ufological claims have been accepted uncritically by millions of people
in America. However, society is split. At what Schnabel archly terms "higher
levels of culture", the UFO debate has evolved into discussions, after a few
drinks, of hoaxes, hallucinations, weather balloons and Venus. However, "for
low-rent people who bought tabloids and mistook Spielberg movies for reality",
accounts of women being inseminated on operating tables in spaceships by
pinkish translucent-skinned humanoids with metallic eyes were simply evidence
that out there in the night sky an alien menace hovered.
As Schnabel points out, many eminent psychiatrists have taken a cold,
sceptical look at UFO claims; they have concluded that most of the accounts
reek of paranoid fantasy, manic elaboration and, in many instances, blatant
fraud. Many of the abduction cases involved the use of hypnosis for
verification; under hypnosis, the stories became more bizarre and compelling.
It took until the late 1970s before a sustained assault on the reliability and
validity of hypnosis was mounted. In study after study, subjects were shown to
confabulate and embellish. One critic, Martin Orne, a professor of psychiatry
at the University of Pennsylvania, warned: "If the hypnotist has beliefs about
what actually occurred, it is exceedingly difficult for him to prevent himself
from inadvertently guiding the subject's recall, so that (the subject) will
eventually `remember' what he, the hypnotist, believes actually happened." I
could not have put it better myself.
More careful psychological studies of the personalities of "abductees"
showed a tendency towards high intelligence, high creativity, lowered self-
esteem, emotional immaturity, egocentricity, confusion about sexual identity,
mild paranoia and, in the words of one researcher, "a tendency, under stress,
to slip into `more or less transient psychotic experiences' involving a loss of
reality testing along with a confused and disordered thinking that can be
bizarre". In short, the sort of people that I, as a practising psychiatrist,
spend some of my time, and with modest success, persuading to take a rest, some
medication and another perspective.
What does Schnabel make of these strange accounts? In much of the book, he
hedges his bets, yet he comes down on the side of the sceptics. It is difficult,
he admits, to ignore the phenomenological, sociological and psychological
links between alien abductions and a host of other unsual experiences, not to
mention sheer mental instability. He concedes that the reported experiences
appear capable of being triggered by stress, a desire for attention, a shot of
mescaline, a hypnotic trance, and involve such fundamentally similar
experiences as bedroom presences, levitation, flight and sexual sensations.
There is, too, the remarkable ability of people to produce information they do
not remember receiving. Even incidental, unconsciously absorbed information can
invade consciousness. Schnabel quotes female therapists who treat Vietnam
veterans for post-traumatic stress syndrome and who have themselves begun to
suffer "flashbacks" about their own "combat experiences".
He is drawn to the theory put foward by Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes
who, in a remarkable book entitled The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown
Of The Bicameral Mind, argued that, up until the end of the second millennium
BC, human introspection, evaluation and decision-making in unusual situations
were always performed unconsciously by the right side of the brain which
delivered commands in the form of hallucinated voices and sometimes visions to
the obedient left. These voices and apparitions, in the course of time, became
interpreted as the voices and visions of gods initially benign, wise,
omnipotent gods to whose authority all regions and sciences attempt to return.
The myriad extraterrestrial beings are merely the latest in a long line of
elaborations which the human mind constructs and then becomes bemused by. Other
theories haul in the temporal lobe, the phenomenon of multiple personality, the
sexual dimorphism of the limbic system and anthropological views on spirit
possession. In the end, though, confronted by the extraordinary proliferation
of ufological reports coupled with bizarre, complicated and often ludicrous
deceptions involving nasal x-rays, scars, disappearing grey-stained sheets and
sand-and-seaweed-covered struggles on the beach, Schnabel admits defeat.