Friday, January 28, 2005

Science Friday: Abducted by aliens - I hate it when that happens

I mean, unless they turn out to be those aliens that have disguised themselves as especially attractive human females. But I suppose there could be other explanations for waking up in the morning with memories of that having happened in the night.

Skeptic magazine editor Michael Shermer reports on his own alien abduction experience in the February 2005 Scientific American: Abducted!

He refers to a couple of studies showing that the emotional affect attaching to an imagined trauma can be just as intense as that experienced by sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on by actual occurrences.

He explains:

The most likely explanation for alien abductions is sleep paralysis and hypnopompic (on awakening) hallucinations. Temporary paralysis is often accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations and sexual fantasies, all of which are interpreted within the context of pop culture's fascination with UFOs and aliens.

In other words, people who experience such physical/psychological events In America or Europe of today may interpret them as being visitations by space aliens. In other cultures or other times, people would be more likely to interpret such experiences as a divine encounter, a prophetic vision, or the intervention of incuba or succuba. I sort of hope if one of those happens to me, it will be the kind that lends itself more easily to the succubus interpretation. But that's just me.

(For those not up on your medieval superstitions, incubus and succubus are sexy spirits who visit people during the night.)

I won't spoil Shermer's account of his own alien encounter during a bike race. But he concludes:

After my 90-minute sleep break, the experience represented nothing more than a bizarre hallucination, which I recounted to ABC's Wide World of Sports television crew filming the race. But at the time the experience was real, and that's the point. The human capacity for self-delusion is boundless, and the effects of belief are overpowering. Thanks to science we have learned to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

Well, I guess that's at least true for the "reality-based community."


Anonymous said...

you mean all those wonderful myths with humans being visited by gods or goddesses in their sleep were just tales of hypnopompic illusion?  break, my heart.

Anonymous said...

Well, you know, these grumpy scientists just want to spoil everything! :)
- Bruce