Mind-Body Problem

UFO research teeters between science and insanity

When I tell people I've done UFO research, they react in many ways, most of them interested and sympathetic. But often they ask an irresistible question. Have I heard any crazy stories?

Of course I have. How about the guy who told me aliens put a chip in his head that made women flock to him? Even better, he said, the aliens told him to go out and useit . . . which, I have to say, I saw him doing, though I doubt that aliens were responsible.

And then there was the woman from the Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CSETI), an organization that claims to be serious and responsible but also says it's made direct contact with aliens. Its members have gone out at night, they say, blinked searchlights at the sky— and sure enough, the aliens blinked back! But when I asked if I could see this for myself, their spokes- woman turned me down, big-time. My mistake, apparently, was asking to observe as a journalist. "Oh, no," the CSETI representative replied. "We've learned our lesson. We invited CBS, and they said it didn't happen."

Then she told me that the government was beaming harmful rays at her.

But amusing as all this is— I could tell crazy UFO tales all day long— it's not the crazy stories that matter. It's the sane ones. To understand the UFO phenomenon, you need to hear firsthand accounts, from reasonable people who aren't looking for publicity, like the woman in her twenties and the older married couple, who— in separate incidents— told me they saw something really huge pass overhead in silence, flying low, at treetop height, some years ago in the Hudson Valley (an area with many reports of such sightings).

All three people described what seemed like similar patterns of metallic piping on the bottom of what they say they saw. It's that last detail that makes these sightings more than usually impressive, though I'm not going to say that these people saw spaceships. How could I? How can any of us know for sure?

But unless they're lying, it seems that they saw something that doesn't sound much like a weather balloon, the planet Venus, or a plane, to name a few things often blamed for UFO reports. Nor does it seem like a group of ultralight aircraft flying in formation, the explanation most commonly suggested for the Hudson Valley sightings. It's true, of course, that people often make mistakes about what they think they see. But these people insist they saw real objects that darkened the sky and had a textured underside.

You'll also find sane reports from people who think they've been abducted by aliens. Budd Hopkins, a New York painter and sculptor who's America's most famous abduction researcher, at one point invited me to look through his unopened mail.

A very few letters came from evidently crazy people. ("The aliens visit me each Thursday.") But most were simple and sincere. These writers didn't claim to have been abducted. They did think, though, that something they couldn't explain was happening. Often they sounded terrified. For most of their lives, they wrote, they'd seen unexpected lights in their rooms at night, and beings by their beds. The beings didn't necessarily seem like aliens, but the letter writers were desperate for an explanation.

They also say their encounters left otherwise unexplained marks on their bodies. And when I've met them, I've sometimes found them saying they remember things they didn't dare to write about, like being driven by their parents to an isolated field where something like "a merry-go-round with lights" was waiting for them. What they want to know— and they ask the question warily, skeptically, thinking that they're crazy just to write or type the words— is whether abductions might explain what they say has been happening.

Often, these abductees then get hypnotized, to recover further memories, and that's controversial. Most psychologists think hypnosis can't recover memory. But psychologists who write about abductions— and I've read just about all the papers on the subject ever published in psychology journals— make elementary mistakes. Few have ever spoken to an abductee, and yet they'll write that abductees are UFO enthusiasts (not true), who proclaim their abduction memories only after being hypnotized (also not true). The situation is far more complex than that, but whatever's going on, it's something nobody has yet explained.

Which brings me to the craziest— and saddest— thing I've seen in the world of UFOs, and that's the confusion surrounding the subject. Mainstream media print misinformation— not disinformation, not deliberate lies or cover-ups, but just shoddy, unchecked data, as if UFOs were beneath contempt, and no reporter need take them seriously enough to check historical facts. More seriously, one leading investigator of the Roswell crash, Kevin Randle, once told me that no one from the mainstream media had ever looked through his files to find out why he thinks the crash was of something alien. He let me do it, and what I found was quite convincing, though lately the skeptics have the upper hand, because some leading Roswell witnesses have been caught in lies or exaggerations.

And within the field of UFO research, I've found a sad polarization. On one side, we have people blinking lights at aliens, and on the other, scientific skeptics who think they can explain even serious UFO reports but don't have a clue what they're talking about. The most astonishing example came from Donald Menzel, a Harvard astronomer who wrote three books debunking UFOs.

Menzel laughed at a report from an Anglican priest in New Guinea, who said he watched beings walking around, apparently working, in a hovering UFO for more than 20 minutes. Now, I'm not going to say this really happened; I don't have a clue. But Menzel suggested— with no evidence at all— that the priest suffered from astigmatism, and either didn't know it, or had forgotten to put on his glasses. What he saw, said Menzel, was Venus, distorted by astigmatism into an oval shape— and as for beings, those were the priest's own eyelashes!

I myself spent four hours arguing with Philip Klass, the most widely published current UFO skeptic, who raged that abductees make their claims only to get on TV. That's absurd. I've met dozens of them, and they fervently protect their privacy. Only one has ever let me print his name. So I had to ask: Which abductees had Klass met? "The ones who appear with me on television," he replied without a trace of irony.

I also talked about two airline pilots who made headlines back in 1948, reporting that they'd seen an unknown craft with windows swooping past their plane one night. This, Klass writes in his 1974 book, UFOs Explained, was "clearly" a meteor, so "clearly," in fact, that the case must be "removed for all time from the category of 'unidentifieds.' "

But how, I asked him, could he be so sure? That the pilots couldhave seen a meteor is obvious enough, since (as Klass points out) in other cases people did imagine windows, when all they saw were random lights. But even skeptics can't cite any meteor known to fall that night in 1948, so how can Klass be certain?

"Suppose something went wrong with your PC," he rumbled, chuckling, but not quite answering my question. "Would you suspect evil spirits, or would you call a technician?" Evidently UFOs were as improbable as ghosts to him, and as easily dismissable. But I kept probing, and finally he took a stand. "Since there is no proof that unknown craft are in the sky," he said, "I prefer a prosaic explanation." Or, in other words, since there are no UFOs, nobody could ever see one. File that under faith, not science.

After four years of UFO research, I'm left with only one firm conclusion. Despite years of Star Trek, the possibility of aliens— right here, now, on Earth among us— is so unsettling that many people, both skeptics and believers, can't talk sense about it.


The Next Step
Judith Hendin, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago in cultural anthropology, went on to dance with Pilobolus, Danny Grossman, and other troupes from 1974 until 1982. Like any dancer she had her share of injuries, and she became fascinated with the healing process, studying many techniques. "I got very connected to my body and the inner issues that need to be addressed. That led me to bodywork which led me into counseling. I became a professional in private practice, combining counseling and bodywork; out of that evolved a way to help people listen to their bodies. You can trust your body. It always knows why it's sick or in pain. It's as if there's someone inside knocking on the door, trying to get your attention, saying 'please listen to me.' If you haven't heard it, it will grab your attention through a physical symptom."

Next week Hendin offers an all-day workshop in which participants will learn how cells create stress, how they heal us through emotions, and how they tell us what we must do to get well. "We'll talk to the symptom as if it were a person trying to get a message through. When we first start we go through a symbolic process, as if we're in a dream; we might discover an anvil, a hammer, or a balloon. We'll talk to the symbol, and out of that a self appears, coming into shape like a ship out of the mist. Once we find it, we have a diagnostic gold mine; it tells us what's going on. The final step is to let this self express its emotions; sometimes, then, a healing actually happens."

Author Shakti Gawain says "Judith Hendin has developed a profound and effective method for hearing the messages our bodies are trying to give us." Bring your symptom and $99 and Hendin will show you some routes to body consciousness. — Elizabeth Zimmer

To register for "The Self Behind the Symptom," February 7, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Center for Experiential Psychology, 57 West 58th Street, Suite 10G, call 980-1355. For private sessions with Judith Hendin (in New York City February 8), call 610-330-9778.


Mental Block

Suffering from a creative block? Your problem may be nothing more than the fact that you think there's something wrong with you.

People whose originality and creativity are a significant part of their lives tend to be more sensitive to their environments, says psychotherapist Eric Riss, who works with artists, writers, performers, and other creative people. When artists mistake this sensitivity as a sign that they are out of tune with what's going on around them, he suggests, they can kill their own creativity. Everyday problems like depression, anxiety, and lack of confidence tend to be magnified by this heightened awareness. Combined with society's expectations for conformity, these feelings of inadequacy can cause creative people to become frustrated by their own uniqueness. Therapy that recognizes there's nothing wrong with the artist can be life-changing. Creative people don't need to be medicated or calmed down, says Riss; they need encouragement to find a sense of confidence. When artists identify the voices that stifle their unique way of expressing things, they can learn to ignore them.

Tina Whelski

Eric Riss, Ph.D., 988-4700


Paradox!

Terminology scarcely allows it: Open Orthodoxy is an apparent oxymoron. Yet Rabbi Avraham (Avi) Weiss, senior rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, has made it his creed. Open Orthodoxy "is open to secular studies and views other than those of their rabbis; open to non-Jews and less observant Jews; open to the state of Israel as having religious meaning; open to increased women's participation; open to contact with the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements; and open to public protest as a means of helping our people."

Asked to elaborate on the role of women within the Orthodoxy, a role that appears, within certain sects of the Orthodox right, to be restricted to the kitchen and the closet, Rabbi Weiss says he not only embraces the involvement of women within Orthodox Judaism, but acts as the Halakhic (Jewish law) adviser to several women's prayer groups, and has come to the defense of these groups in his book Women at Prayer.

What makes Rabbi Weiss unique (and controversial) is not that he is an activist committed to an open ideological agenda, but that he has incorporated his open ideology into the historically rigid Orthodox movement. "Open Orthodoxy is not a compromise," he asserts, but an authentic movement founded on "strict Halakhic adherence and open ideological pursuits." — Aaron Tillman

The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale offers no-fee seders and services; for full information call 718-796-4730.


Who's Who?

Many valuable spiritual and holistic practitioners operate beneath the radar of the big, mainstream institutions. How can you quickly identify excellent metaphysical counselors, bodyworkers, or instructors who are also people of color? Or lesbian, gay, bisexual, Two Spirit, or transgendered? Or who regularly serve culturally or sexually diverse communities with sensitivity and respect?

I'm compiling a database of the best of these practitioners, teachers, speakers, and groups. Their focus must be on either spirituality or alternative health, including spiritual, innovative approaches to mental health issues such as recovery and trauma. This database will support networking among people of color and queer people within the holistic field, and perhaps the creation of programs in collaboration with various community groups.

To submit information about an individual or group, please include contact name, title, organization name, address, phone, fax, e-mail, brief description of activities or services, populations served, and brief personal commentary. Feel free to recommend relevant books, journals, videos, training programs, lecture series, conferences, and other resources. E-mail to sekhmet-bast@mindspring.com or snail-mail literature to me at Radical Magick, P.O. Box 1133, Peter Stuyvesant Station, New York, NY 10009.
— Eva Yaa Asantewaa


One of nine articles in our Mind/ Body/ Spirit Supplement.

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