One of the subjects in the study described in the unknowncountry news reveals the facts behind the headlines:
As one of the participants in McNally’s study, I’ve been aware of his personal position on the subject of alien encounters for some time now. As he is a decent man I do not hold it against him that his personal opinion is that alien encounters do not exist; such is entirely his right and it means little to me.
However, as one reads his study (or news articles about it), one needs to be aware that McNally’s personal opinion is not the direct result of his results, which are remarkable. McNally’s study proved that the physiological responses of experiencers are as authentic as the physiological responses of people whose experiences are not considered “unreal.” That has significant implications.
McNally has chosen the safest possible implication — he chooses to view these results as evidence of the “power of emotional belief.” However anyone can see that this is a conclusion which can only be reached if one presumes that alien encounters have not transpired, that they are unreal, and that they are therefore a matter of belief. The study did not prove that alien encounters were fantasy, on the contrary, it proved that the physiological response was as authentic as the response from any reality known to be true. The matter of the reality of alien encounters remains unresolved, even as we now have evidence that the impact they leave upon people is as significant as that from reality.
Although I respect McNally for the research he has done, some of his opinions professed in the article above are based on superficial comparisons which I cannot hold in the same respect — i.e., his suggestion (made here and elsewhere in the press) that because some aspects of alien encounters sound somewhat similar to sleep paralysis and accompanying hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucination, that that may be an explanation. No study leading to that conclusion was performed (an elevation in reports of sleep paralysis on the part of experiencers does not establish a causal relationship), it is simply an idea. The opinions of experiencers themselves on this point would be ones to consider here, given that many experiencers are familiar with such states of consciousness, since they have been prompted by their experiences to learn about alternative explanations for what they perceived (including studying what is known about human psychology), and still remain unconvinced that these account for their alien encounter experiences.
Experiencers such as myself who have experienced sleep paralysis may have relevant information. I can easily appreciate how someone who is not personally familiar with both experiences may be tempted to make a connection between the superficial similarity between sleep paralysis and the initial moments of a typical alien encounter. By most estimates, greater than a quarter of the population (some say 30%) have experienced sleep paralysis, which is to say they have become semi-conscious during the natural condition which keeps our bodies from moving during sleep, a time when our perceptions tend to be skewed. That the experience is only superficially similar to some moments of contact seems to be given short thrift by McNally, and indeed as is common when making such comparisons he makes no mention of experiences which are perceived by two or more people simultaneously — which while not establishing for certain that alien encounters take place in our “reality,” certainly blur the distinction between objective (external) reality and internal (subjective) reality far beyond what scientists can account for.
[If experiencers in his study do report a higher incidence of sleep paralysis than the average, one may want to consider whether experiencers’ knowledge of sleep-related states of consciousness may even have introduced error into the written history portion McNally’s study: Since they, unlike the general public, are more likely to know what sleep paralysis is, and given their interest in knowing what was going on with their lives, they may well have made more of an effort in their daily lives to remember such episodes and therefore been more likely to answer in the affirmative when asked if they’d experienced such episodes — in contrast to the people in the comparison group who would have had no reason to try to remember such episodes even if they’d had the language to assist them in remembering.]
And though the following third possibility may seem remote, both of those concerns do not even enter into the question of whether altered states of consciousness, such as the states of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep, may be conducive to extraordinary perception (Sherwood, S. in the Journal of Parapsychology, June 2002).
A second statement which deserves a closer look is McNally’s suggestion that people who report alien encounters have unusual beliefs about reality, beliefs which he says in the BBC article existed prior to their encounters. One needs to bear in mind that according to most studies, adult experiencers have tended to have had encounters since childhood which they may have disregarded at the time for the most part (childhood experiences tending to have a different quality than those in adult life). If encounters do begin in childhood, then the development of novel ideas about reality may well be the result of their early experiences, even if they did not become fully aware of their experiences until later in their adult lives. In short, “cause and effect” remains in question even for that aspect of his study.
I hope that a critical reader will take into consideration the details of this report, and understand the remarkable results of his physiology study are not diminished by the personal opinions of the researcher.
–Will Bueche, Cambridge, MA
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