Author Susan Clancy admits that at first she was not interested in the topic of the present book, aliens and alien abduction, but she was interested in memory and not interested in spending her entire life in grad school.
She began her Ph.D. in psychology during the 1990s when controversy over the idea of “recovered memory” was raging. That is, the idea that some people dealt with severe childhood trauma by repressing it. Once adults, when it was safe, people might start allowing the memories to appear as dreams or unexplained anxieties and fears. Memories of abuse could then be “recovered,” through hypnosis or guided imagery. Recovered memory is most often associated with severe childhood sexual and/or physical abuse.
Her thought was to study whether people who had recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse were more likely than control groups to be susceptible to false memory creation.
“Didn’t it occur to me that testing false-memory creation in sexual-abuse victims would be controversial? Well, I was idealistic,” Clancy writes. (p. 17) The tough part was listening to the accounts of sexual abuse, some of which put her in tears. And then there was the reaction once she’s written up her findings. One published letter called her “a friend of pedophiles everywhere.”
Clearly, memory-testing in those claiming to be alien abductees appeared safer and simpler. She placed an ad the paper asking, “Have you been abducted by aliens?” From among the respondents, she weeded people calling from homes and such and ended up with about 13 test subjects. She interviewed them and ran many of the same memory tests that she’s used for the sexual abuse victims.
Importantly, none of them had memories of abductions. Most had “recovered” memories after having sought therapy for unexplained symptoms such as trouble sleeping. Often there were unexplained bruises, or time they couldn’t account for. The idea of alien abduction clicked—and clicked so well that alternative explanations—sleep paralysis (a phenomenon where the brain wakes up a little bit before the body), for example—were simply not considered.
As the abductees themselves often asked, why would people make this stuff up? Abductions are unpleasant, often terrifying experiences. And if they are made up, why are accounts of them so consistent and why do they affect people from all walks of life? Clancy sees these as good questions and seeks to answer them in her book.
The alien abductions meet some deeper need. One example of this is a man who could not have children with his wife. He is greatly comforted by knowing he has 8-year-old twins by an extraterrestrial mother. He’s never seen them, but he knows they’re there.
Our personal stories are inextricably linked to our needs, goals and desires. Aliens-abduction accounts reveal that many of us want contact beyond human experience: contact with something supernatural, with the divine.” (p. 151)
Clancy’s writes with humor and with in acknowledgement of her own shortcomings. This is an interesting glimpse as us human critters.
*An earlier version of this review appeared on another site. It has been rewritten and updated for it inclusion in Examiner.*