We are 100% user-supported!
Without you, there is no RationalWiki!
|Goal: $5000||Donations so far: $5000|
Help and donate today!
|The woo is out there|
|Aliens did it...|
|... and ran away|
“”Hello. I'm Leonard Nimoy. The following tale of alien encounters is true. And by true, I mean false. It's all lies. But they're entertaining lies. And in the end, isn't that the real truth? The answer is: No.
|—Leonard Nimoy, The Simpsons|
An alien abduction is a claim that extraterrestrial aliens have taken a human (or group of humans), usually forcibly, and usually to perform experiments on them. Alien abduction stories are rife, many are almost entirely inspired by what is seen on The X-Files, but they are unsubstantiated and consigned to the Twilight Zone by rational observers.
The belief that one has been the victim of an alien abduction is a genuine psychological condition which has been scientifically investigated. Some fringe groups interpret this as giving scientific validity to the concept of alien abduction itself. It doesn't.
 An example abduction
A person is lying in bed at night, their favorite episode of the Outer Limits on DVD lies next to their TV. Suddenly, a bright light comes through the window. They're paralyzed, unable to move; suddenly, the light disappears and they glance at their clock and it's over an hour later... what other explanation could there be?
After recounting the strange event to an overeager friend, the victim is referred to a therapist who says he/she can unlock secrets hidden in their mind during the abduction. The victim, under hypnosis, then recounts the story of them being taken aboard the spaceship, probed, told the world is about to end, taken for a zip around the galaxy and then through time, shown their own child, meets their dead father and returned to the spot. The therapist then publishes in a magazine and the victim becomes a true believer, repeatedly returning to the therapist to unlock yet more elaborate secrets.
“”The UFOs were nothing more than the collective fantasies of a stressed out society... The world into which UFOs had appeared was one of under-the-desk siren drills against nuclear annihilation. Society had made a new myth, a communal idea of something outside a species apparently intent on dooming itself.
|—Thomm Quackenbush, Artificial Gods|
Many "survivors" and "victims" claim various motives for alien abduction, often quite elaborate:
- To perform various research tests on them, often involving the anus. Seriously, who in their right mind would want to stick a probe up your anus? The ability to cross from one star system to another, just to stick something up there? Unless these aliens are performing colonoscopies pro bono, it's not gonna happen. Aside from that, most tests are all about sex and reproduction. Coming quite behind this, we have brain and nervous system inspection.
And the aliens seem to deliberately ignore, in their "examinations", key body parts such as the chest, the respiratory, circulatory and lymphatic systems, not to mention that they lose time with the relatively straight-forward sexual apparatus, entirely skipping important and complex organs such as the liver, the pancreas or hormonal glands. Also, you don't get to see much interest in the throat: not one single abductee has ever claimed being examined with the use of a tongue depressor, one of the most basic diagnostic instruments. Their "examinations" are thus quite incomplete. Naturally, the most obvious explanation is that the whole "abduction" thing is a product of fantasy and that the "abductees" just mention what they instinctually perceive to be the most "invasive" procedures, involving violation of the most "intimate" body regions: the anus, the genitalia and your mind.
- To breed with humans. Quite common are stories of human-alien hybrids. In these stories, aliens are described as cold, and unable to feel emotion so need humans to breed with. Still, it never occurs to them to pick emotionally stable individuals to work with.
- To reveal secrets: Aliens know that ex-president George Bush was a secret warlord from another galaxy and they have to stop him. The Shrub may be weird, but he's not that weird.
Some have more plausible theories about alien abductions:
 Realistic explanations
 Bright lights in the window...
Simple explanations could be the Sun, Moon, artificial lighting, or even passing vehicle headlights possibly coupled with paranoia, hypnagogia, confirmation bias, mental illness, wishful thinking or all of the above.
The phenomenon of being paralysed in bed is not restricted to UFO and abduction stories. It has been reported in tales of ghost hauntings and religious experiences. The most widely accepted, rational explanation for this is sleep paralysis. The body normally "shuts off" instructions from the brain to skeletal muscles during part of sleep, to prevent you from acting out your actions in dreams. On occasion, this doesn't work right and someone will awaken but remain paralysed. In effect, sleep paralysis is the opposite of sleepwalking: instead of asleep and mobile, the person is awake and paralyzed. Although this can be a scary experience, anyone aware of the fact will relax and quickly wake and gain control of their body, while more impressionable people may panic and begin to confuse reality with their previous dreams. Or, you could use your sleep paralysis to your advantage and attempt to enter a lucid dream. Research suggests that UFO "abductees" may be more prone to confabulations and may be simply mixing alien images from pop culture into these incidents.
 Lucid dreaming
Some people who have suffered from sleep paralysis have reported entering a state of uncontrolled lucid dreaming. In this state the instinctual mind of the dreamer seems to take over, often subjecting the subject to the most intense of nightmares or "night terrors". In such a state the subject can interact with the real world around them, sleep walking, opening doors and turning on lights, but their perception is populated by concepts of the dream. It should be noted that one of the most common forms of this dream is the "Grey Stranger", where an undefined shadowy presence is reported to torment and torture the subject. This form of dream was first recorded by a Roman Emperor and is so ingrained in some cultures that the Russians have named the figure Baba Yaga or the Old Grey Crone (Witch). It is believed amongst most serious researchers of UFOs and alien abductions that this is the explanation behind reports of "grey aliens". It should be noted that these dreams are utterly real to those who experience them and can have very real emotional effects on the person. In some cases sufferers have developed PTSD or even been driven to suicide.
 Missing time
You're 4 hours late for dinner; do you want to tell your wife the truth that you've been out banging a whore while on a coke binge? But seriously, people misread the time, fall asleep for an hour without noticing, and many other things, all the time. Briefly falling asleep without noticing is a well-known phenomenon and often cited in safe driving awareness campaigns; people can sleep for several seconds or several minutes at the wheel without noticing. As people in this state generally don't notice that they sleep, without a frame of reference to say that you were sleeping, time can appear to skip. Various mental health conditions, including autistic spectrum disorders and schizophrenia, can impact a person's sense of time.
Have you ever looked at the stars...on weed? Psychoactive drugs are, well, psychoactive. A wide variety of drugs can cause hallucinations. Some drugs—including alcohol and various sedatives—can induce temporary amnesia, leading to the person under their influence "waking up" with no memory of the immediate past. Almost certainly, many abduction tales can be chalked up to unanticipated effects of drug use.
 Physical evidence
On occasion, doctors or examiners will pull a piece of "alien technology" from someone. Never has one of these things looked remotely like a tracker, a microchip or the bug from The Matrix. Usually they look like glass shards or grit and tests on it will be "inconclusive". Almost invariably these "tests" are carried out by someone unqualified to do the testing. It is very, very likely that this is grit or glass that got wedged in an open wound, nothing more.
The UFO phenomenon is barely 60-70 years old and the abduction phenomenon is slightly younger than that. Pre-1960, it's likely that anyone claiming to have been abducted by aliens would have used the term "demon" to describe the aliens or "airship" to describe the UFO. This is a sure sign that, whatever is happening, the terminology is skewed by pop culture and the current state of human technology.
However while alien abduction appears to be something new, the format isn't. Many societies have traditions about elves, fairies, dwarves, kobolds etc, which echo modern grays. These were small, humanoid, with incredible powers and would wander around at night, especially in remote places. Abduction by fairies is a centuries old tradition in Europe, and it is possible that alien abduction represents a modern outgrowth of this idea, with the fairies being replaced with extraterrestrials (which are more plausible to many people's mindset nowadays.) Two notable fairy abductees from western literature are Thomas the Rhymer and Rip van Winkle. The latter experienced a significant amount of missing time.
Unfortunately, a Gallup poll done in the late 1990's showed that about a third of Americans believe aliens have visited us. John Edward Mack, M.D. was an American psychiatrist, and Professor at the Harvard University School of Medicine. He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, and a leading authority on the spiritual or transformational effects of alleged alien encounter experiences, sometimes called the Abduction Phenomenon. 
 See also
- Alien Research Group (crank site)
- Kidnapped by UFOs? PBS NOVA special (features Carl Sagan)
- Spanos et al. Close encounters: an examination of UFO experiences. Journal of Abnormal Psychology (1993) Volume: 102, Issue: 4
- ↑ The Exeter Incident[wp]
- ↑ Gurstelle (2011) The Psychology of Alien Abduction: An Altered State of Consciousness?
- ↑ On a side note, the location and characteristics of a species' anus is diagnostic for taxonomic purposes. That being said, we've already been able to classify ourselves without having to resort to that much involuntary anal probing...
- ↑ Look it up. Just don't buy into all the woo and New Age bullshit that some people try to throw at you.
- ↑ See the section on traumatic memories in particular.
- ↑ http://autism.lovetoknow.com/Time_Perception_in_Autism_Spectrum_Disorder
- ↑ http://spectrumnews.org/news/time-perception-problems-may-explain-autism-symptoms/
- ↑ http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/does-schizophrenia-impact-time-perception-0802131
- ↑ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/866045
- ↑ Fore example, this is one of the more convincing ones.
- ↑ Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World (1996)
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on Mystery airship.
- ↑ for his book on T.E. Lawrence, A Prince of Our Disorder, not UFOs
- ↑ James Gleick on Dr.Mack