Thursday, August 13, 2009

Alien Abductions, Sleep Paralysis and MUFON

For those of you who might have missed it, I was just at the 40th MUFON Symposium in Denver (The Speakers Panel at the Symposium seen here). I had the opportunity to give a talk about using the scientific method to upgrade the evidence that we gather, but that’s not the point here.
During the question and answer period after my talk, someone, naturally, asked me about alien abductions. I pointed out that I believe that there is a terrestrial explanation for most abductions and like it or not, sleep paralysis is a viable answer to many cases. I attempted to make it clear that I don’t believe that all cases of abduction are actually episodes of sleep paralysis, but some are. I suggested that we needed to develop a protocol to separate sleep paralysis from alien abduction and was aware that some work along those lines was being done.

In fact, in a brief discussion with Kathleen Marden (seen below), the niece of Barney and Betty Hill, she told me that you could tell the difference because abduction descriptions were in black and white and sleep paralysis was in color. What she was saying was that because it was normally dark in the room when the abduction took place, the abductee described the events there in black and white. During sleep paralysis, which is often accompanied by the feeling that something is in the room, the descriptions are in color because this is, essentially, a hallucination.

That was an intriguing point and it suggests other ways to develop the protocol to separate sleep paralysis from abduction. But that’s not the point here either. Just a taste of something I learned at the Symposium, which proves the worth of such gatherings, but as I say, I digress...

I went out of my way to explain that while it was clear to me that some cases of sleep paralysis were offered as evidence of abduction, I didn’t believe that this was the end all solution. It was clear to me then, as it is now, that there will be many diverse answers to this problem and sleep paralysis is just one of them...

Or, I suppose I could say, "Get it?" Not all sleep paralysis ends with a belief that the person was abducted and not all abductions are explained by sleep paralysis.

I tried to make that distinction, but, of course, as there is in any large group, there were those who didn’t listen. They heard, "sleep paralysis" and then were so busy forming their response, they lost the rest of the message. They didn’t listen, and, of course, wouldn’t believe that sleep paralysis solved any case even if the witness came forward and said, "I experienced sleep paralysis and not abduction."

To make that point, all we have to do is look at the knee-jerk reaction to Susan Clancy’s book about abductions and sleep paralysis (called Abduction: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, if you must know). Of course, she was so busy trying to prove her theory that she didn’t bother to see the flaws in it, but then again, I digress.

The next day, one of those in the audience came by and handed me a short list of statements by John Mack that he thought refuted the whole idea of sleep paralysis. I told him that not only had I read Mack’s book, but I had a signed copy given to me by Mack. I didn’t even have to pay for it.

For those interested in such things, the inscription says, "To Kevin, with admiration for your pioneering work. All the best wishes. John Mack."

So, yes, I understand that sleep paralysis won’t explain everything. But I also know that its part in abduction can’t be dismissed with a couple of words of derision. To understand abduction we’re going to have to understand sleep paralysis.

And when we dismiss sleep paralysis with a smart-ass response, then we’re doing exactly what we accuse the debunkers of doing. Not looking at the evidence. Not willing to learn something new. And not bothering with research because our minds are made up. After so many years of this, shouldn’t we be a little more open to solutions and a little less closed minded about the work of others, even if we don’t like where it is going?


  1. Hear Hear!

    I have had several sleep paralysis experiences, including one where I felt myself being lifted, ass first, up to the ceiling and out the window of the midtown NYC apt. where I was taking an afternoon nap and up to the sky faster and faster, then woke with a start after summoning all my effort. I never thought of these as alien encounters, but I actually DO believe there may very well be a connection. If there's one thing I've learned enough to believe, it's that we're a very, very young civilization compared even to the Mayans or ancient Greeks. We demonize and destroy everything that falls outside our shrinking worldview and alien abductions will always be outside of that worldview.

    the parallell I use in my own writing is a dog eating your math homework. How could you ever convince a dog that math existed, or that paper wasn't just wood pulp with graphite seasoning? The dog community would scoff, since everything is related to sensory input not abstract thinking.

    Take that one more dimension higher, to alien abductions, we know just enough to realize we have no control over these events, and that scares the people who want control and perhaps elates the MUFON crowd who is so eager to prove they're not insane that they become just as blinded by dogma as the skeptics, as you so aptly point out.

    It all just proves that the govt. is actually very smart in not admitting the existence of these things, while at the same time slowly declassifying files enough to create a gradual awareness -- now the info is there if you want to start learning, but if you absorb this stuff and can still sleep at night, then you're not really grasping it and that's the thing - the only way we can begin to grasp this at all is to let go of the idea we'll ever control or understand it with our limited (perhaps even limited intentionally by THEM at the dawn of our creations as a species) perceptions.

  2. Nice article, and thanks for writing it.

    A question that comes to my mind is what would be some of the different factors in that person's life, at that time, that would tend to bring on an episode of SP?

    Does sleep depravation, or a high amount of stress, or some recent-to-the-victim incident play a part?

    I don't remember how much you delved into this in your own book. If you covered it, I will dig it out and go back through it.

    Thanks again,

  3. Thanks Kevin for listing these comments about the recent symposium and your comments there. One of the reasons I stoutly refuse to attend "these things" (but of course some day I'll probably cave in) is I've encountered way too many people with interest in the field who seem more interested in supporting a belief system than applying at least a modicum of rigorous logic or at least informed skepticim. Ironically these are the folks that truly need to hear what you (and others) are saying if we are going to make anything resembling headway in understanding these phenomenon.

    One of the laments I have heard and read is how "real scientists" have little interest in the UFO topic. My observation is not so much lack of interest but the signal to noise ratio. Their experiences are probably very much like your own, have any doubt or serious questions on the topic and there is always someone who will want to shout you down. Scientists, like anyone else, have their internal disagreements too, but refutation, rebuttal or support comes, for them, for the evidence, not belief.

    Erichs comments are both cogent and funny. Especially the "dog" example......

  4. From time to time we hear about individuals who have a strange cross-circuiting of sensory responses -- a sound will evoke a smell, a smell will evoke a color, etc. It's called Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID), or sensory processing disorder. The estimates of how many have such disorders to some degree are surprisingly high, perhaps 3 or 4 per thousand in the population. For those of us who are "normal", such a perception of the world is unfathomable, so, when such an individual might tell a wild abduction tale, we'd tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. It would be interesting to find out if people who claim to be abductees are disproportionately from this subset of the population.

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  6. Oh mistake...I thought it said Sheep paralysis...never mind.

  7. I don't think sleep paralysis alone begins to encompass reported abductions -- let alone occupant cases. But it's certainly a factor and needs to be addressed methodically. It sounds to me like you're making strides in this direction.

  8. Having had 3 instances of sleep paralysis with all the classic symptoms, I would suggest that another criteria to distinguish between paralysis and abduction is that paralysis doesn't leave a person suffering from the deep trauma that accompanies abduction events. Yes, it scares the daylights out of you and can leave you with memories you can't forget, but not the trauma. You're scared out of your mind while it's happening, then you break out of it, calm down, maybe freak a little at the time but within the day you're recovered. Even without consciously remembering what happened to them, I've heard and read that many abductees have problems they later can trace to the abduction event. I don't think personally that they're being abducted by aliens, but something is clearly happening that is not sleep paralysis. It seems to be affecting these folks at a much more profound level than sleep paralysis would. They're interpreting it in the only way they can, and for lack of any better explanation they interpret it as abduction. I'm not qualified to put any better word to it either, so I won't.

    As for the black and white vs. color criteria, my last bout of sleep paralysis featured a hole being eaten through the ceiling of my darkened nighttime bedroom, with crab-like white limbs beginning to crawl out of it. Sleep paralysis hallucinations can be black and white, apparently building on the view from my half-open eyes during the episode. When I broke out of it, I was still staring up at that patch of ceiling - the exact same view, without the hole and without the crab-like limbs crawling out.

    Aunty Proton

  9. "I don't think personally that they're being abducted by aliens.."

    There have been cases where people were taken while awake and without suppression of conscious memories e.g. Hickson and Parker. Did the Hills suffer sleep paralysis while driving? ETs apparently do take people, and in all claimed abductions, there are descriptions of nonhuman entities.

    "..but something is clearly happening that is not sleep paralysis."

    What, if not ETs?? The abduction phenomenon appears to be part of a mutifacted UFO phenomenon, essentially unknown prior to mid 20th century. Assuming sleep paralysis has affected people throughout history, I don't see why there's been a recent upsurge in reports, if it's the primary cause.

  10. Starman -

    Did you actually read my posting here? Did I say anywhere in that posting that sleep paralysis explains all cases of abduction? Did I mention Barney and Betty Hill, other than help to introduce Kathleen Marden?

    But thanks for making the point. ANd if you are going to quote something, please identify the quote... who said it where?

    And given some of the controversy around Hickson and Parker, I'm not sure that I would hold them up as the best example. There are other, better examples.

    Finally, if you look at the folklore tradition, you'll find quite a few parallels to abduction, which, I believe both Eddie Bullard and Jerry Clark have mentioned in the past.

    But, again, read the post and show me where I said that sleep paralysis explained all cases of alien abduction...


  11. It's not possible that the abductees could be suffering from some as yet undefined and undiagnosed biologically based mental disorder? It hasn't been all that long ago that medical science discovered that schizophrenia is an actual physical, biological disorder and not possession by the Devil or "evil spirits". It is unscientific to immediately attribute this phenomenon to aliens without investigating all other possible avenues of origin. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    That said, here's a few ideas and questions.

    If the ETs are not related in any way to humans, why would they come here? A civilization that could cross the interstellar and/or intergalactic void by definition would have no use for anything we have here on Earth with the sole possible exception of deuterium. Within the Sol system, Mars has a much higher concentration of deuterium and so would be the much more valuable piece of real estate. Organic material, all the elements we have here, water, etc., can be found in abundance in much easier to harvest forms elsewhere in the universe. Given that in a typical spiral galaxy such as our own, the density of planetary systems would be much higher the closer you go to the core, if they're out this far they're scraping the bottom of the barrel. They would be so far ahead of us (Kardashev type 2 at the least), that they'd look at us the same way we look at dust mites and bacteria -- and probably they no longer distinguish between us and the bacteria, since they would have abandoned organic physical form thousands of years before.

    If the aliens are evolved humans, why would they return to Earth and bother their antecedents? I've heard the theory that they might have lost something in their genetics and are conducting breeding programs with the abductees in an attempt to restore whatever was lost. Again by definition, the fact that they can apparently travel through time would indicate a highly advanced state of technology. In this case they might even be higher evolved than the previous example, since time travel is technically a harder trick to pull than interstellar and/or intergalactic travel. So if they can pull this trick off, why can't they genetically engineer themselves out of the dead end they've apparently gotten themselves into? A species of this level would not even be able to remember having a physical form. They can travel through time, presumably also travel across the universe at will, and yet they haven't yet gotten past corporeal form and narcissism? They would likely not even recall the planet they originated from. And why such fragile, badly designed forms as the Grays? They could appear as anything, any form they wished, yet they pick this form with a vulnerable, huge cranium and weak emaciated body? Why that, when they could just as easily create themselves or their creatures as Neanderthals, elephants, tigers, or combat robots? Why bother with a form at all when undoubtedly they could perform all the tasks they needed to with an invisible cloud of aerostatic nanocomputers that would be undetectable to our senses and our current technology? They could easily perform much more invasive observations of us with technologies we would never be able to detect. Blowing their cover by abducting humans and mutilating cattle makes no sense.

    These kinds of arguments are why I am much more inclined to accept sleep paralysis and psychological explanations for the abductee phenomenon than the extraterrestrial explanation.

    Aunty Proton

  12. KRandle:While my use of the term "primary cause" may have been too strong, I was well aware that you don't consider sleep paralysis the SOLE cause of abduction reports.Tilt:I doubt we can atribute abduction reports to some as yet unknown mental disorder, unless it is capable of causing injuries and implants, and hallucinations among those NOT taken, such as near the Brooklyn bridge in '89."would have no use for anything we have here on Earth with the sole possible exception of deuterium."Indeed they're not here to obtain raw materials. But planets with evolving civilizations are no doubt relatively rare and of great interest."..the density of planetary systems would be much higher the closer you go to the core."But close to the galactic center, stars are packed so close together many planets may have been torn from their orbits and swallowed by other stars, or the central black hole. The inner part of the galaxy may not be habitable (nor the metal poor edge), whereas we're in the intermediate habitable zone."they'd look at us the same way we look at dust mites and bacteria."Lol I beg to differ. Unlike dust mites and bacteria we have potential. Presumably they were once at our stage; someday--perhaps not all that far into the future, given the exponential rate of progress--we may be at theirs."Blowing their cover by abducting humans and mutilating cattle makes no sense."There's not much "blowing" inasmuch as the quality/extent of evidence pointing to advanced visitors is rather limited, no doubt by design. UFOlogists never do seem to have a wholly convincing, airtight case, so it seems the ETs know what they're doing, lol. I don't believe in time traveling future humans; as for grays, they better fit inside spacecraft than tigers or elephants. (Actually some reported humanoids are quite big, some are, unlike grays, even handsome.)

  13. I spent several years researching sleep paralysis for a documentary, and one thing that frustrates me over and over again from both skeptics and ufologists is that neither have done their home work about SP. The fact is that SP can not be an explanation for anything because it is not yet understood it self. The theories for what causes SP or what is happening during these extraordinary experiences is purely hypothetical - not fact. To use one unexplained phenomena to try to explain another is ridicules.

    Anyone who is seriously interested in trying to understand either experience (SP or Abduction) should be looking at the relationship between the two. To say there is no relationship between the two is just as stupid as saying one explains the other. Is it just coincidence that both involve paralysis, supernatural entities, electoral pulses through the body, telepathic communication etc. etc. Open your mind people there is something to be learned here.

  14. Adam and Andrew elucidate the point made aboove, or was trying to make. Just because some of us have, perhaps, the luck or the will to snap out of SP doesn't mean there's not some similar thing occuring or trying to occur as with alien abduction.

    If you can't see the commonality I'd recommend reading Jung's works on the collective unconscious or Patrick Harpur's "Field Guide to Daemons" - which sounds like goofball fiction but actually makes the best case yet for looking beyond the duality of real and imagination, fact and fantasy, conscious and unconscious, in describing these events. Alien abduction is no more or less real than anything else, but to be forever looking to establish either/ors wil never get you very far, like tying to establish the difference between underwater and air while never leaving the dock.

  15. Here are the 5 points you failed to mention:

    "A theory that would even begin to explain the abduction phenomena will have to
    account for five basic dimensions. These are:

    1. The high degree of consistency of detailed abduction accounts reported with
    emotion appropriate to actual experiences told by apparentally reliable observers.

    2. The absence of psychriatic illness or other apparent psychological or
    emotional factors that could account for what is being reported.

    3. The physical changes and lesions affecting the bodies of the experiencers,
    which follow no evident psychodynamic pattern.

    4. The association with UFO's witnessed independently by others while abductions
    are taking place (which the abductee may not see).

    5. The reports of abductions by children as young as two or three years of age."

    ----John E. Mack (1994)

    You spoke of a protocol for differentiating sleep paralysis from abductions....Mack already provided it many years ago, but for some strange reason you ignore it.

    How many of the above points does sleep paralysis explain? As far as I can tell...only (2).

    When I presented this to yelled and said that sleep paralysis didn't explain all the cases, and you never claimed that it do you explain the cases that sleep paralysis does not explain?

    And if this is the case...why is the jury still out?

    Perhaps you don't believe it, but many who have studied the phenomenon know better.

    Perhaps I should claim that since 95% of UFO sightings are misidentifications, the jury is still out on the reality of an alien presence on Earth.

    Get it?

  16. Why argue if it's abductions and visitations vs Sleep paraysis? Why can't it be both? Perhaps Sleep Paralysis IS the mechanism used by ? to enter into our dimension. Scientists also argue that NDE's are merely the body's way to shut down. Why can't it be the Creator's mechanism used to tranform the soul to it's next destination? Just because Science can explain how it works mechanically doesn't make it less real.