Book synopsis: Abducted

Abducted – How People Come to Believe They Have Been Abducted By Aliens
Susan A. Clancy

This was an amazingly fun book to read. I have always been more interested in why people do things and less in what they have done; understanding motivations helps understand people. Susan A. Clancy, a post-doc in psychology at Harvard, studied abduction stories and the abducted. This book is the result of those studies.

She describes how a Harvard PhD student ends up studying the abducted; shows what leads to the abduction memory, why all the stories sound similar and finally discusses who holds abduction beliefs and why these beliefs are so important to them.

First off, and Clancy makes this absolutely clear, she is one of the unbelievers. She doesn’t think aliens are flying about nabbing people from their beds, cars or whatever. This leads me to a major, abet trivial, criticism of the book, the cover. The editor/marketing person who chose the violent, reflective green dust cover should be abducted by aliens and never returned. If this book did poorly in bookstores, the cover was to blame. Trying to make a book for sceptics look like a book for true believers is a less than ideal marketing move. The ‘Abducted’ title leaves something to be desired as well. Wouldn’t ‘Understanding the Abducted’ have worked just as well?  It might have sounded like a self-help book.

The book begins with how the author got involved with abduction memories. She describes being interested the recovery of memory during hypnosis or therapy and how these relate to actual events or whether the memories are created ‘on the couch.’ One of the motivations for this research was the large numbers of ‘remembered’ sexual abuse cases in the late 90’s. Claiming these memories might be wrong was, at the time, less than politically correct. Clancy realised, in order to show memories could be created during therapy she would need a less controversial subject area. Enter the aliens.

Alien abductions – well, the memories of alien abductions – make a great topic for PhD research. They are well known, poorly researched and have a nice postmodernist, New Age feel.

It took three months to convince Harvard’s Institutional Review Board that this was a viable research project, but at last I got the green light and ran the first of many newspaper ads seeking subjects: “Have you been abducted by aliens?” By 10:15AM my voicemail was full.

This rather bold method led to her only encounter with an alien. She receives a very strange voice mail.

[T]he machine emitted a static-like sound, followed by about twenty seconds of punctuated, atonal beeping. There was an eerie syntax, almost a cadence, to the noise, and it ended with a prolonged hissssssss. It was no less creepy the tenth time I played it, amid a safe crowd of fellow graduate students the next morning.

The book continues with Clancy’s first encounter with abductees and a description of the typical abduction. The stories often have two different phases. The initial phase where the abductees wake up and know something has happened. The quest for an explanation often leads these individuals to seek contact with abductee support groups and perhaps directed therapy. Detailed memories usually only return after the person has gone through hypnosis or therapy.

For the author, the most surprising thing is just how normal most of her subjects are. This is not the standard tinfoil underpants crowd; these are doctors, lawyers and your next door neighbour (no, I mean the normal one). The only aberration these people show is the belief that ET popped in one evening, inserted the odd probe into a bodily orifice and left without leaving a trace. Even more astonishing is the fact that most of these people feel better, more relieved and more a part of the universe knowing this happened to them.

According to Clancy, this is the key to understanding the phenomena. The subjects she interviewed were generally very open-minded and had shown some prior interest in aliens. Being abducted was the explanation for sleep paralysis that made them feel better, more special, more connected to the cosmos.

Unfortunately, at 179 pages the book seems too short. Clancy might have spent more time exploring the cultural and historical aspects of alien abductions. And while she does briefly discuss the origin of aliens as opposed to witchcraft, demonic possession or other perfectly natural reasons for sleep paralysis, I found this section of the book to be slightly less than satisfactory. Like a child in a candy store, I was left wanting more. Having a metal probe inserted in your belly button might not be your idea of a mental baby blanket but some people find this more appealing than reality. The book does not discuss what is missing in our society that causes people to seek extraterrestrial comfort. Clancy leaves us to ponder this question at the local pub of our choice.

Although this book leaves one wanting more, it is a must for every sceptic. Often sceptics will ask the question “How can they believe this crazy stuff?” This book tries and largely succeeds in answering the question for alien abduction. Clancy has written a fun, readable account of this phenomena and I can only encourage others to read this book.

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