It may sound completely ludicrous, but millions of people in the United States alone claim to have been abducted by extraterrestrials. The typical testimony from professed abductees describes how they are taken from their beds, homes, cars, and other locations and transported to space craft manned by small grey aliens with oversized black, slanted eyes. Memories of the abduction include being unable to move, hearing buzzing sounds, electrical sensations, and difficulty breathing due to pressure on the chest. Aboard the UFO and still immobilized, abductees are subjected to experiments of a violent, sexual nature. Sperm is often reportedly taken from men, and women are shown alien-human hybrid babies produced using female victims. Abductees might also be told they are special—selected to save the human species by virtue of the experiments and hybridization by propelling humanity’s evolution.
Abductees regularly report “missing time”—not being able to account for the elapsed time during which they later learn their abduction occurred. Missing time can range from a few hours to days. Nearly all abductees do not have conscious memories of their experience. Recollections of the experience must be retrieved through hypnosis. Many are naturally traumatized and describe their experiences as repetitive throughout their lives and even across family generations. However, some (based on the messaging given to them by the aliens) are transformed by the experience. Their abduction becomes a spiritual awakening.
Academic studies have shown that the “millions” noted above isn’t a speculative figure. Polls have produced numbers from 1.5% (Roper, 1991) to nearly 6% (Appelle) of the general population of the United States claim to have had an alien abduction experience. In contemporary terms, that’s nearly 5 million people.
What’s going on? Are innocent people really being snatched by aliens? Is there some other explanation?
Alien Abduction: Proposed Explanations
Demonization: A number of suggestions have been offered to explain the alien abduction phenomenon. Among Christians, the most prevalent has been demonization—that abductees are being attacked by demons. An association of the phenomenon with demons isn’t hard to grasp given the sexual violations reported by abductees and the otherworldly messaging, much of which is anti-Christian (Alnor). When what is essentially rape is accompanied by claims on the part of the alleged aliens—that they created human life, Jesus was an alien hybrid, and humans need to transcend humanity to be as gods—it isn’t hard to see why demonization is the default explanation among people of faith.
The demonization hypothesis has in part been propelled by unexpected sources. Several non-Christian writers of repute within the UFO community (Jacques Vallee, John Keel) have written about the similarities between alien abduction accounts and medieval accounts of demonization. In 1992, a conference on the alien abduction phenomenon was held on the campus of MIT. One paper among the dozens presented noted the high correlation between alien abductee testimony and testimony of victims of satanic ritual abuse.
Lastly, the demonization hypothesis is encouraged by the work of the CE4 Research Group, headed by Joe Jordan. CE4 has documented over 100 cases where abductees were delivered from the abduction experience as it was happening, or that a pattern of abductions was halted through prayers to Jesus for deliverance.
Sleep Paralysis and “Old Hag” Folklore
Other researchers, usually professionals in psychology and psychiatry, offer a different explanation for the alien abduction phenomenon: sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is a known, documented condition that has been triggered in laboratory conditions. In simplest terms, sleep paralysis is when someone consciously awakens from sleep during the night but their body is completely immobilized. The phenomenon is experienced by millions of people, even larger numbers than polls conducted asking about alien abduction experiences. Aspects of the experience reported by those who have had a sleep paralysis experience overlap considerably with those of alien abduction, including (Cox):
The cause of sleep paralysis has been discovered and reproduced in controlled conditions. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, sleep paralysis happens when the skeletal motor system is forced into a state of paralysis during REM sleep. The catalysts of this situation—glycine and another neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)—are simultaneously needed to induce muscle atonia in REM sleep. Precisely what triggers the neuro-chemical response is debated (Chase, Soja, Morales).
Researchers have noted that sleep paralysis is frequently present in reports of other hallucinatory entities known from folklore, such as the “old hag”. Instead of aliens visiting the paralyzed victim, an old woman, whose features betray malevolence or sinister intention, is seen in the room or squats on the victim.
Human Experimentation and Screen Memories
Less bizarre—but no less sinister—is the suggestion that other people are behind the victimization of alien abductee experiences. Some researchers, including at least one well-known to the UFO community who formerly believed extraterrestrials were to blame, have proposed that alien abductions are screen memories implanted in people by human captors.
Leah Haley is perhaps the most notable researcher who has put forth this view. Haley, once committed to alien abductions being the result of extraterrestrial encounter, is herself an abductee. Through careful research and analysis of her own case, Haley has come to believe she was abducted by military personnel and given a screen memory of alien encounter for experimental purposes—all against her will (Haley).
The case for human perpetration of what is essentially forced hallucinatory experiences or brainwashing is bolstered by the long history of such experimentation in Canada and the United States. The most infamous and officially documented instance is MK-ULTRA, which itself had many sub-programs paid for by the CIA and other governmental agencies. MK-ULTRA was exposed in the 1970s and became the subject of congressional hearings. Part of MK-ULTRA research aimed to deliberately traumatize individuals for the purpose of dissociating them (their minds) for the purpose of mind programming. In his book The Greys Have Been Framed, as well as on his personal blog, Jack Brewer has documented significant overlaps of mind control programs and their personnel with the alien abduction phenomenon. Research has also shown an overlap between dissociative traumatization and alien abductee traumatization.
This theory would not argue that all abductions are explainable in this way, only some. Others, so the theory goes, are the result of media exposure that passively implants such ideas into the minds of people, who then parse some experience that bears similarity to abduction scenarios as an alien abduction. Brewer’s book also thoroughly documents the failures of hypnosis (e.g., in legal proceedings and criminal cases) to retrieve reliable memories, and how lack of expertise in hypnosis—unfortunately common in abduction research—leads to patient manipulation and flawed results.
Alien Abduction: The Best Explanation
The current state of research strongly suggests that sleep paralysis has high explanatory power for alien abduction experiences. Demonization and human experimentation are viable, but minority, explanations. Until there is actual scientific evidence for intelligent alien life, one unknown (ET life) cannot be used as an explanation for another unknown (abduction experiences). That would be circular reasoning of the blatant kind.
Stuart Appelle, "The Abduction Experience: A Critical Evaluation of Theory and Evidence,” Journal of UFO Studies, n.s. 6 (1995/96) 29–78
Loftus, Elizabeth. "Memory distortion and false memory creation," The Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law 24.3 (February 1996): 281-295
Robert A. Baker, "The aliens among us: Hypnotic regression revisited," in The Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal: A Skeptical Inquirer Collection (Ed. Kendrick Frazier. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1991): 54-69
Stephen J. Ceci and Elizabeth F. Loftus, "‘Memory work’: A royal road to false memories?" Applied Cognitive Psychology 8.4 (1994): 351-364
Susan A. Clancy, Richard J. McNally, Daniel L. Schacter, Mark F. Lenzenweger, Robert K. Pitman, "Memory distortion in people reporting abduction by aliens," Journal of Abnormal Psychology 111.3 (2002): 455
Regina Patrick, “The Neurochemistry of Sleep Paralysis,” American Association of Sleep Technologists 22:4 (2013): 12-14
Jack Brewer, The Greys Have Been Framed: Exploitation in the UFO Community (CreateSpace, 2015)
Leah Haley, Unlocking Alien Closets: Abductions, Mind Control, and Spirituality (Greenleaf Publications, 2003)
M. H. Chase, P. J. Soja, F. R. Morales, “Evidence that glycine mediates the postsynaptic potentials that inhibit lumbar motoneurons during the atonia of active sleep,” The Journal of Neuroscience 9:3 (1989):743-751
J . A . Cheyne, “Situational factors affecting sleep paralysis and associated hallucinations: position and timing effects,” Journal of Sleep Research 11 (2002): 169–177
Susan Marie Powers, "Dissociation in alleged extraterrestrial abductees," in Dissociation: Progress in the dissociative disorders (1994)
Susan Marie Powers, "Alien abduction narratives," in Broken images, broken selves: Dissociative narratives in clinical practice (1997): 199-215
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