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THE ABDUCTION PHENOMENON AT MIT*

by Stuart Appelle

C.D.B. Bryan, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Alien Abduction, UFOs, and the Conference at M.I.T. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. 476p. $25.

During June 13-17, 1992, a conference on the alien abduction experience was held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Co-chaired by David Pritchard, physics professor at MIT, and John E. Mack, professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, this invitation-only conference was designed to bring serious investigators and clinicians together to assess commonalties and differences in their findings, interpretations, and approaches to the abduction experience.

A number of writer-journalists were also invited, including C.D.B. Bryan. His own perceptions of the conference, as well as an extensive presentation of abduction accounts, and his assessment of abduction and UFO phenomena in general, represent the content of Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.

Bryan’s book follows close on the heels of Alien Discussions: Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference, edited by Andrea Pritchard, David E. Pritchard, John E. Mack, Pam Kasei, and Claudia Yap (Cambridge, Mass.: North Cambridge Press, 1994). Discussions is 684 pages’ worth of the complete Abduction Study Conference proceedings. Readers interested in a blow-by-blow of the conference will need to read that volume. Those willing to settle for a somewhat selective summary will find Bryan’s coverage of the conference quite satisfactory.

Bryan begins his review of the conference with Mark Rodeghier’s definition of an abduction experience. Thomas E. Ballard, Bud Hopkins, Keith Basterfield, David M. Jacobs, John Carpenter, Jenny Randles, Joe Nyman, and others each elaborate on this definition by describing the contents and structure of the abduction experience according to their own individual perspectives.

The review continues with John Miller’s discussion of conventional explanations for "missing" pregnancies. He examines what conventional medical procedures may tell us about reputed alien abductions. Richard F. Haines discusses multiple abduction evidence. The infamous Roper poll on the prevalence of the abduction experience is hotly debated. And Bud Hopkins unveils details of the Linda Cortile case.

The conference then turns to the psychological dimensions of the abduction experience. This is discussed by a number of mental-health practitioners who have worked with experiencers and by investigators who have assessed the characteristics of experiencers using standardized personality inventories.

Bryan concludes his review of the conference with talks on the ethics of abduction investigation and treatment (David Gotlib, Stuart Appelle). With this he also concludes the first half of the book.

The remainder of Close Encounters focuses on post-conference interviews with a number of personalities, both from ufology (Mack, Richard Boylan, Pritchard, Miller) and from the group of experiencers who were in attendance especially two women whose shared experiences are fleshed out during hypnotic sessions with Hopkins.

For the uninitiated, Bryan’s analysis will provide a good perspective both on ufology in general (Roswell, cattle mutilations crop circles, black helicopters, MJ-12, and the sighting classics are all covered along the way) and on some of the personalities most closely associated with abduction research. It also allows the reader an excellent glimpse into the phenomenology of the abduction experience. Indeed, nearly half the book is devoted to narratives of abduction experiences as told by its percipients both through conscious recall and during hypnotic regressions.

Yet, even for those who have closely followed the field, this book offers items for reflection. For example, the reader is allowed to listen in on the dialogue between Hopkins and an experiencer during an actual hypnotic regression. This dialogue will impress some, in terms of its effectiveness in eliciting apparently hidden memories. At the same time it may well be scrutinized by opponents of hypnosis looking for ammunition For example, Hopkins responds to a traumatized experiencer who is recalling an alien rape: "Nobody has the right to do this to you....You didn’t give him permission.... You have every reason in the world to be angry. Every reason to say 'Leave me alone.... Don’t ever do this to me again' " (pp. 373—74).

However skillful, well intended, and perhaps inevitable such exchanges may be, they will give pause to the researcher concerned about the interaction between "counseling" and "investigation." And critics of hypnosis will no doubt see in these exchanges evidence of practicing therapy without a license, or of reinforcing in the experiencer a literal interpretation of the reported events.

The interview with Mack will also be of interest. Compared to his book Abduction (1994), what emerges here is the more coherent and accessible (albeit no less assailable) statement of his reasoning. Mack identifies seven factors which he feels must be addressed in any explanation of the abduction experience. For both his detractors and his defenders, this list presents a sharply focused target at which to aim.

Elsewhere in this interview Mack states that while he might not be qualified to evaluate certain aspects of the abduction experience (such as physical evidence), he can certainly determine if his patients are telling the truth: "Maybe [my client is] lying. But that’s my business.... That’s where I do have some expertise" (p. 258). His comment is particularly poignant given the accusation by Donna Basset that he accepted the completely concocted story she feigned during the course of her "therapy" with Mack.

The reader is also treated to a view of ufology as seen through the eyes of various conspiracy theorists. There is James A. Harder, sizing up Bryan father’s (Joseph Bryan III) as the mole in NICAP who was responsible for the organization’s demise. Boylan finds evidence of covert research into alien technology at every military base and government installation he visits in the Southwest. Linda Moulton Howe shares a private moment with an Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent who shows her a secret document describing the government's involvement in retrieving crashed saucers and dead aliens And then there are the abduction experiencers themselves. One of them sees an alien entity (invisible to Bryan) spying on them in the midst of a daytime conversation on the MIT campus.

For the already indoctrinated, however, the big news from the Abduction Study Conference will not really be news at all: Investigators and mental-health professionals working with the abduction experience disagree in almost every possible way.

This includes the origins of the experience (whether abductions are real, not real, or something in between), its content (to what extent the events so carefully delineated by Jacobs do or do not accurately portray a typical abduction experience), the apparent motives of the reputed abductors (whether they are here to serve their own nefarious objectives or to save the earth from catastrophe), and how investigators and mental-health professionals should deal with experiencers seeking their services (for example: what the ethics of abduction-experience research and treatment should be). These differences of opinion do not go unnoticed. To Bryan’s credit he captures much of the flavor of abduction research as well as the nature of the abduction experience itself.

Bryan begins his book by framing the Abduction Study Conference at MIT in terms of Pritchard’s call for "a critical analysis and an exploration of all the possibilities." Ultimately, both the conference and Bryan’s book can be judged by how well this call has been met. By the strictest of standards, both may have fallen short of the mark. But both are among the best representatives of their kind for objectivity and open-mindedness.

Ironically, for this very reason both have been and will continue to be criticized.

*Stuart Appelle, Ph.D., editor of Journal of UFO Studies is professor of psychology and associate dean, School of Letters Sciences, State University of New York, College at Brockport. Article from the International UFO Reporter. July/August, 1995. Vol. 20, Number 4. pp. 20-21, 24.

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