The Decline and Fall of the Psychosocial Hypothesis

Anthony R. Brown
Magonia 72, October 2000

There are, in ufology, two basic schools of thought. The first claims that some or all UFOs are extraterrestrial craft, and that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals are abducted by aliens and undergo traumatic experiences at their hands. This school we may term the extraterrestrial establishment. The second school claims that UFOs are misperceptions or hoaxes, and that abduction claims are either hoaxes or the result of "psychological need". This school we may term the psychosocial establishment.
School one claims that UFOs and abductions are real, physical craft and events; School two claims they are not. Both ) sides will, no doubt, quibble over the details of these basic definitions but, in essence, this is the current state of affairs.

Supporters of the ET Hypothesis mainly rest their claim on a surface reading of the reports and rarely, if ever, garner other arguments to bolster this claim. They do not, for example, quote Drake's equation on the possible number of habitable planets supporting intelligent life in our Galaxy as an argument in their favour. Probably, the most they would claim would be the huge number of stars and galaxies that might be sites for extraterrestrial life. This is the Argument from Large Numbers. Their main claim, however, is the interpretation of reports along extraterrestrial lines. Psychosocial proponents mainly rest their claim on a denial of the above interpretation, together with an interpretation of their own that claims to be founded on the basic precepts of psychology, psychiatry and sociology.


Hysteria represents the foundation stone upon which the whole Psychosocial model is built. It is necessary, therefore, to give an accurate definition of the term when so much depends on this single item.

The definition of hysteria consists of specific symptoms grouped according to function. Thus there are disorders of movement: paralysis of limbs, muscle spasms, contractures, tics and tremors, ataxia, difficulty in swallowing and loss of voice. Then there are the disorders of sensation and perception: the loss, distortion or exaggeration of any sense modality, touch, pain, heat, cold and position sense. And then Disorders of Mental Function: the most notable being belle indifference; a bland lack of concern regarding the presence of one or more of the above symptoms.

Hysterical amnesia may sometimes be associated with a hysterical fugue: the patient may leave his home or place of work and journey, often ending up at a place that has held some special significance for him at an earlier period in his life say, his childhood home. The amnesia is usually clearly related to some upsetting event intolerable financial, family or employment stress and is often of long duration but patchy.

Then there is the hysterical fit. The form of the fit varies according to the patient's conception of epilepsy. The fit nearly always takes place in the presence of others, there's no incontinence, nor loss of consciousness (EEG readings are normal), and the patient rarely injures himself as might be the case in real epileptics.

Hysterical puerilism is a regression to babyhood, complete with babyish language, helplessness and insistence on bottle feeding. And lastly, hysterical pseudomentia, usually a device to avoid military service or responsibility for criminal behaviour a la Pinochet.

Slater and Roth have this to say about hysteria:
"Many patients are seen with symptoms which all would call hysterical, in whom no motivation for the symptom can be discovered despite intensive enquiry. Furthermore, intensive enquiry will frequently persuade the psychodynamically minded clinician that there is motivation for symptoms which few psychiatrists would accept as hysterical. 'Motivation' is not an observational datum but a judgement of a very high degree of subjectivity ... When one reviews the enormous range of what one has to call hysterical, the quality that emerges as the most plausible single feature constant to all cases is the tendency to dissociation, to a breakdown in central nervous integration. This can be seen in unmistakable form in hysterical paralysis, anaesthesias, twilight states, loss of memory; but it is also visible in the belle indifference, which permits the hysterical patient to suffer distressing complaints without their normal emotional consequences ... Hysterical symptoms are commonest at the two ends of life, before the organisation of the central nervous system has yet achieved maturity, and after it has entered on its decline." (E. Slater & M. Roth, Mayer-Gross Salter and Roth: Clinical Psychiatry, 3rd edition, London, 1969, pp. 107-108)
I contend that not a single abductee has been shown to display any of the above symptoms, either in their behaviour or their abduction accounts. This brings us on to the next important fact concerning hysteria: that of its incidence in the general population. Hans Eysenck, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, has said: " ... this disorder (hysteria) ... has almost completely disappeared in modern times when one of my PhD students wanted to investigate the ability of hysterics to form conditioned reflexes, he was unable over a period of years to find more than a very small number of patients showing even rudimentary signs of this classical disorder". (H. Eysenck, 1985) If it's that rare in the psychiatric population, you can be absolutely sure that it is infinitely rarer in the general population.

Dissociation of Tutankhamen

The phenomenon of hysterical dissociation has been elucidated above and its over-riding manifestation is in the belle indifference that is the sine qua non of hysteria. However, Psychosocialites make a fundamental error when they equate the extremely rare phenomenon within hysteria of multipersonalities with both a skill that can be exercised by anyone who is deemed to have a psychosocial 'need' to be resolved, and the phenomenon of alien abduction and, for example, reincarnation.

Multipersonalities represent but one symptom of hysteria where other symptoms and conditions are necessary to qualify as a case of hysteria. The ability of someone to exhibit multipersonalities in the absence of the other symptoms of hysteria immediately disqualifies the diagnosis being made merely Shakespearean actors who also lack the belle indifference that is such a defining symptom. Slater and Roth suggest that: "It seems that these multiple personalities are always artificial productions, the product of the medical and literary interest that they arouse." (ibid., p. 113) When an hysterical patient's integration of their personality breaks down into multiple personalities, they are not claiming that these different personalities apply to anybody but themselves they do not have one aspect of their personality that they claim is Tutankhamen! Their multipersonalities refer directly to aspects of themselves at the present time.

Abductees may believe that they are abducted by aliens, but they never claim to be anybody other than their everyday selves. People claiming to have been Tutankhamen in the remote past do not claim that they are Tutankhamen now, nor that their reliving of Tutankhamen' s alleged lifestyle under hypnosis in the present constitutes a different aspect of their present personality. So to claim that dissociation of the personality in the above contexts is but a skill anyone can exhibit, or that it exists in abductees or believers in reincarnation is simply not true. It is perverse to claim that it is.

Argument from Analogy

A further assertion of the Psychosocialites is that the abduction phenomenon is but one of many similar phenomena, and that what is likely to be true of abductions is also likely to be analogous to these other older phenomena. One or two of these claimed similar phenomena are, for example, possession and Witchcraft both of which are also claimed to be delusions!

Now I might claim that the moon is analogous to the sun. Indeed, both share common characteristics: both revolve on their axes, both have gravitational fields, both are impacted by meteorites and asteroids, both have north and south poles, etc. However, there the similarities end. Their differences far outweigh their apparent similarities, so trying to explain the unique characteristics of one (say, the conversion of hydrogen to helium) simply cannot apply to the other. And this leads to a fundamental observation when one is using the Argument from Analogy, to wit:
"There is no greater nor more frequent mistake in practical logic than to suppose that things that resemble one another strongly in some respects are more likely for that to be alike in others ... Any two things resemble one another just as strongly as any two others, if recondite resemblances be admitted." (C.S. Pierce, Essays in the Philosophy of Science)
So to claim that we can understand the phenomena of the sun by studying the moon is a bit of an exaggeration. The mental mechanisms that lead to an abduction narrative are not the same as those that lead to demonic possession. Their fundamental characteristics are entirely different. Additionally, the possessed person may hold the belief that the Devil possesses his soul, but the actual phenomenon of possession itself is not a delusion such phenomena actually exist and can be experimentally reproduced.

Having said that, there remains an important observation: That similarities in one phenomenon may give ideas about how to design better or different experiments when investigating the phenomenon being studied. This is precisely where accounts of fairies and angels may be useful adjuncts to thought when addressing UFOs.

Imaginary Abductees

A major claim for the Psychosocial Hypothesis as an explanation for the alien abduction phenomenon is Lawson's experiment with imaginary abductees. The assertion is that anyone can fabricate an abduction account under hypnosis, even those who claim to be ignorant of science fiction material and 'real' abduction narratives. But also buried in this claim is the additional assertion that this material is so pervasive in society that nobody can truly be said to be ignorant of science-fiction films, TV and magazines is so pervasive in society, there is no such thing as an abduction virgin that everybody knows what goes on in these stories and anyone can therefore construct a convincing abduction account under hypnosis. The assertion further claims that Lawson's 'virgins' had no interest in nor detailed knowledge of UFOs and abduction narratives and, by extension, that their ability to produce convincing abduction narratives is due to cultural factors.

But wait a minute haven't we just determined that abduction narratives are due to hysteria in real abductees? So are Lawson's virgins suffering from hysteria? And if the virgins are not hysterics, is their ability due to cultural factors? So how do we tell whether real abductees are cultural victims or hysterics? If a phenomenon (alien abduction) is caused by condition X (hysteria), then demonstrating the phenomenon in others surely implies condition X (hysteria). You can't say that the same phenomenon (alien abduction) occurs in condition X (hysteria) and attempt to prove it by claiming a different condition (sci-Ii) in other subjects. If abduction virgins are not hysterics, and yet these same virgins produce the same results as hysterics, then this surely tells us that hysteria is not a necessary condition of the phenomenon. And if this is the case, then it throws considerable doubt on the hysteria model. So do we have two entirely separate causes for the same phenomenon: one group of hysterics and one group of sci-fi victims producing identical abduction accounts?

Now these virgins, we are assured, had no knowledge of nor interest in UFOs and abductions which begs the question: How did they acquire their detailed knowledge? Having no knowledge of nor interest in UFOs would seem to suggest that they did not see sci-fi material! Reading sci-fi books and watching sci-fi films holds no interest for them. So how can they display convincing abduction narratives when they had no knowledge of them? Lawson supplied them with the very information they claimed to be ignorant of. So what, exactly, was the whole point of the exercise?

Before these virgins actually related their narratives, they were no longer virgins Lawson was their teacher. And if Lawson had to tell them what to imagine, then this knocks on the head the claim that sci-fi material is so pervasive in society that anyone can construct a convincing abduction narrative. You can't have it both ways you can't claim sci-fi pervasiveness and have to rely on teachers to supply the necessary information. Either sci-fi and abduction accounts are all pervading, or they're not. So which is it? The entire argument from sci-fi rests for its effect on its very pervasiveness. The need for teachers to cue subjects throws considerable doubt on this assertion. The very point that the experiment is claimed to prove (the pervasion of sci-fi material) ends up triumphantly demonstrating the exact opposite!

Had Lawson only instructed his naive subjects to imagine being abducted by aliens, and had pot given them the structural and content details, that could have been both interesting and revealing. Had he said, "Imagine you are being abducted by space aliens", and left it at that, then that would have been far better. The experiment was flawed from the start because the aim of the experiment had not been thought through. As it was, Lawson committed the very sin that the sceptics have always accused the abduction investigators of committing cuing the subjects. There's no point having abduction virgins if you start out by telling them what to think and imagine.

If it is claimed that the experiment was designed to show the conviction of the acting and, therefore, that real abductees are only acting, then the significant issue is missed entirely. For the comparison of real and imaginary abductee accounts is not about acting ability, but the content of the actual accounts. It is content comparison that will reveal meaningful information, not whether one subject screams louder or longer on the operating table than another.

The question is: Does a medical exam take place or not? It is not a question of according Oscars for performance. Now if it's claimed that Lawson only supplied rough guide-lines to the virgins, but that they still revealed details indistinguishable from real abduction accounts, then this strongly suggests that the virgins are suffering from a form of amnesia. How can this be so? Simply because the virgins produce accounts identical to real abduction accounts, and the real accounts and sci-fi material are the only source of the information.

Therefore the virgins must have read or seen the material in the first place to be able to reproduce it under hypnosis. They claim not to have seen this material before, thus they are suffering from faulty memory retrieval and do not realise it. If this scenario is deemed untenable for all the virgins, then perhaps the virgins had previously experienced the same or similar anomalous and traumatic events as the real abductees but have never interpreted them in space alien terms. This approach would seem more productive than resorting to mystical and occult avenues such as ESP contamination from the experimenter.

So the whole issue of the Lawson experiment comes down to direct comparison of both real and imaginary abduction accounts, for the accounts themselves will reveal whether or not the special qualities of the real accounts are the same as the imaginary accounts. To show that imaginary abductees are the same as real abductees then, it must be shown that these special qualities occur in both sets of accounts. Surface similarities are simply not sufficient criteria to satisfy this demand. There is a real, deep and unique phenomenon in the real accounts: it remains to be proven that such meaningful patterns occur in the imaginary accounts.

Sci-Fi, Physiognomy and Fashion

It has been postulated that the Betty and Bamey Hill abduction was due to the influence of the sci-fi films of the 1950s. Indeed, Kottmeyer has gone to extraordinary lengths to claim that a specific film was the origin of their experience. There are two important points that are never addressed in such assertions. the first is that there is not a single case from the decades of sleep and dream research where a film has ever been partially duplicated by subsequent dreaming.

True, a disturbing film can affect subsequent dreams, but it is only the emotional tone of the film that may be thus reflected in following dreams. The dream imagery and story are always different from the film. The emotional tone might be virtually identical in both film and subsequent dream, but never the imagery and story.

The second point is that no matter how compelling the comparison between film and subsequent dream is, the idea comes crashing to the ground unless it can be established that the Hills actually saw the film. You can speculate and analyse until the cows come home, but unless you've actually confirmed that the Hills saw the film in question, then the whole exercise is pointless.

I have lost count of the number of UFO investigators and writers who have agonised, speculated, theorised and argued over the physical appearance of our extraterrestrials. It has been a constant source of puzzlement as to why some aliens are short, while others are tall; why some have large heads, while others are small; why some are bald and others have hair; why some have teeth, while others have none; why some are grey-skinned, while others are tanned; why some have no nose and others have one; why some are nude, while others wear clothes; why some have large eyes, while others are small; why some look oriental, while others are Nordic, and so on.

Kottmeyer has gone to great lengths to trace the history of alien appearance and fashion through the development of science fiction literature, and so link it to present-day aliens. But what have we learnt from all this comparative physiognomy and fashion? What more do we know today, than we did before this exercise in physiognomy and sartorial elegance began? Has it told us anything new or significant about UFOs and abductions that we didn't know before? I contend that it hasn't!

When Hufford came to study the Old Hag Phenomenon, he collected as many accounts of the phenomenon as he could, and set about looking for recurring elements within the accounts. Eventually, he discovered that the hallucinations, the paralysis, the fight for breath, and the terror that characterised the Old Hag Phenomenon fitted perfectly the major components of the Narcoleptic syndrome. At no stage did he consider that the descriptions of the Old Hag sitting on the victim's chest had any relevance to the clinical picture at all. It did not matter in the slightest whether the Hag squeezing the life breath out of the terrified sleeper was a wizened old crone or a comely wench.
So trying to divine the important components that go to make up the abduction experience by the physical appearance of our extraterrestrials is unlikely to tell us much of importance. Just as a real Old Hag sitting on the sleeper is an impossible story, so the appearance of a real alien abducting humans is an impossible story. Trying to find meaning in an impossible story is a red herring. The Old Hag didn't help solve the problem; neither do the Greys, nor the Nordics, nor the Giants. Whether they wear multi-coloured suits or appear stark naked tells us absolutely nothing.

Purpose and Need

Psychosocialites assert that the phenomenon of alien abduction is driven by a conscious or subconscious desire on the part of the abductee to resolve a personal crisis by constructing subconsciously a drama (the abduction) that seeks to resolve the crisis, and that this resolution signals a change of direction in the witness's life. That the behaviour of the abductee can be easily divined by the end result the new outlook on life.

There is a concept within psychology-which neatly sums up the true complexity in trying to interpret someone else's actions or behaviour and, by observing these actions, attributing moral, ethical or motivational judgements to that person. Consider the following: When an observer (oneself) observes the behaviour of an actor (someone else) the observer invariably tends to assign moral or motivational judgements to the actor which they never apply to themselves. If I see my neighbour digging his garden while his wife is busy with the week's laundry, I might think he is being selfish by not assisting his wife with the washing. or, again, I might surmise that that he is selfish in not helping Mr Jones, across the street, to put up his new fence. However, if I, the next day, also work in my garden, then I do this because my growing vegetables will help ease our weekly food bill, or benefit my childrens' health by providing fresh, green vegetables. So I attribute to myself an entirely different motivational judgement to the one which I apply to my neighbour, although we both perform the same actions. So attributing motivational assessments or judgements to other people can be fraught with methodological difficulties.

Returning to our abductee, how do we know that the altered outlook on life following their experience is not an attempt to bring some sort of order back into their lives after the unsettling, disturbing and unpredictable experiences that they have recently encountered? If some unpredictable and inexplicable event occurs to someone (say, the loss of a young child in a freak accident), might not their behaviour after the event be an attempt to bring some sort of predictability and purpose back into their lives after such an upsetting experience? So how do we accurately assess which moral or motivational factors apply in any given event?

The model of psychological need that is proposed by the Psychosocialites presupposes that the actor (abductee) has a pre-existing need to be resolved when it may be postulated that it is the very nature of the anomalous experience that could initiate a reappraisal of the world where such unpredictable and inexplicable events can occur. The abductee's previous stable view of the world is made uncertain and capricious by the nature of their recent disturbing experience. Their attempt to reassess their new world may result in trying to gain more control over their lives to try to establish as much faith in their new world as they managed to achieve in their old world.

The Psychosocial model, besides presupposing a need, also asserts a purpose. What is more, . this purpose is a two-fold concept: it is claimed that the abduction serves a purpose by resolving a personal crisis, but also that the encounter serves a biological purpose that it actually has survival value, and further, that these purposes are built into the 'organism (the witness) by a designer.

Well! There is so much to comment on here that it would take several pages to address the evolutionary and religious issues indicated, but I will try to make a couple of important points. Firstly, regarding the Argument from Design, I can only recommend Dawkins' excellent treatment of this argument in his work The Blind Watchmaker essential reading for those convinced that because a complex organ or biological process exists, this implies design by a Creator. The second is that if an anomalous experience had survival value, and therefore qualified as being purposeful, then that phenomenon (e.g. hallucination) would be a permanent feature of the organism and not an indication of pathology. The fact that hallucination is common in some psychiatric illnesses strongly suggests that it does not have survival value. For example, some hallucinating schizophrenics commit suicide precisely because their hallucinatory voices tell them to do so. Lastly, just because an experience is anomalous, this does not preclude the witness accepting a rational explanation. Thus it ceases to be anomalous to the witness, and if it ceases to be anomalous, then any claimed survival value is presumably cancelled.

Improbable Improbabilities

If, in the course of everyday conversation, we make the remark that such and such an event is probable or improbable, then this statement represents only a general opinion of the person saying this. Taken in this context, we cannot assign any degree of either its truthfulness nor of its likelihood of ever occurring. Consequently, such vague and unspecific opinions of probability have no real weight and so have no place in an hypothesis where such probabilistic opinions form a substantial condition for accounting for a phenomenon.

When it is claimed that life exists elsewhere in the Galaxy, we are immediately presented with two kinds of probability. When a true coin is tossed we do not know in advance what the outcome will be, it could either be heads or tails. Even then, it may not be enough to give an accurate estimate of the chances of heads or tails if we obtain 99 heads and only I tail in an experiment. We need to run many such experiments to establish any sort of result that reflects a chance outcome. Once we have established that Event I (heads) and Event 2 (tails) are roughly equal outcomes we can then say that the result of one toss of the coin will result in a 50:50 probability of coming down heads.

By knowing that there are only two possible outcomes (the two sides of the coin), and by experimentation finding that the coin is true, we can give a meaningful probability figure to a single toss by knowing through experimentation that it must be one or the other, and by understanding the laws and conditions that govern the law of falls can we make such theoretical probabilities about a similar event occurring elsewhere. Thus we can make theoretical probabilities about the outcome to the coin tossed both in the UK and, say, the USA.

When we attempt to apply values of probability of life occurring elsewhere in the Galaxy we are thrown on to theoretical possibilities which are not in any way meaningful. For example, as we don't know how life originated on Earth, nor what necessary and sufficient conditions were needed for life to actually arise, then we have no way of knowing whether such unknown conditions can or cannot occur on other possible planets in the Galaxy.

Claims for extraterrestrial life depend crucially on these conditions of probability, and their lack in the ETH precludes making any such probabilities. So the question becomes: Does the Psychosocial Hypothesis lack just these sorts of conditions that prevent a meaningful assessment of probabilities either that it constitutes a sound theory or whether it qualifies as being more probable than the ETH?
Let's take just one example: the Collective Unconscious. Now according to this theory "the significant memories of the human race are a part of everyone's heritage. This, Jung thought, might account for the similarity of symbols and myths found in widely separated areas over the Earth." What is more, this heritage contains "residues from the animal past and are part of the Collective Unconscious". (C. Thompson, Psychoanalysis: Evolution and Development, London, 1952, p. 165) To Jung "it represented the wisdom of the ages".

So to put the concept in modern terms we may state that: the Collective Unconscious consists of a group of specific memories handed down from mother to child in every generation and in all societies. It is, in other words, a powerful genetic property of the organism. It applies to everybody everywhere, whether or not one cares to believe in its reality! It follows, therefore, that this remarkable gene can be traced either directly by its unfailing appearance, or be implied by its absence in people who suffer genetic abnormalities. Perhaps the ones who don't have this gene are the very ones who cannot believe in its reality?

Not a shred of evidence exists for the Collective Unconscious, genetically or otherwise, so we can never observe that it exists and, unlike our very real two-sided coin, we are unable to make either empirical observation and deduction or theoretical probabilities for it ever to actually appear. What is true of the Collective Unconscious is also true for the Id, the Ego, the Superego, and all the other inventions of Freudian and Jungian psychology. We can never assign a probability rating for any of them to appear in any particular set of circumstances.

The probability of the existence of the Collective Unconscious is roughly equal to claims that real aliens are abducting humans.

Necessary and Sufficient

To watch a drama on television it is a necessary condition to have an author and actors, but their existence is not a sufficient condition to satisfy the drama's appearance on your TV screen. Equally, resistors and capacitors are a necessary condition for the reception of the drama on your TV screen, but these are not sufficient conditions to account for the drama, even with the author and actors one also needs a power supply, for example. But one can list which conditions are necessary conditions with great accuracy, and one can say which of these necessary conditions have to be present for the phenomenon (the drama) to actually appear on your television.

So when one postulates a theoretical model to account for a phenomenon (alien abduction) one must be able to say which of the elements that go to make up the model are necessary conditions for the phenomenon, and which of these necessary conditions are also sufficient conditions for it actually to appear, Now if we say that hysteria and the Collective Unconscious are necessary conditions for the phenomenon, are they, on their own, sufficient conditions for the abduction phenomenon actually to appear? That is, every time that these necessary and sufficient conditions appear, the abduction phenomenon will appear.

If hysteria and the Collective Unconscious are necessary but not sufficient conditions, then one must work out, either theoretically or experimentally, what other necessary conditions must be present for the phenomenon actually to appear.

To simply list a raft of generalise categories without specifying their precise definition and behaviour in the model is simply meaningless. One might claim, for example, that electronic components are needed to produce the TV drama, but there are many such components that simply do not have any relevance to the transmission or reception of television signals. Thus, vague and woolly statements to the effect that "anyone who subconsciously wishes to produce an abduction can find within himself the necessary resources to fabricate a detailed and coherent abduction story" are meaningless. Exactly what resources are necessary?

What are their characteristics? How many of these posited resources are there at any given time? How does one detect their presence? What constitutes the definition of the subconscious? How do you detect it when it is in operation? What can this subconscious do and not do? And if anybody can display these resources, how was this "fact" discovered? One has to be quite precise in ones definitions for the model to have any meaning or usefulness at all. So if I wanted to design an experiment to test abductees for the presence of the subconscious, exactly how do I go about it? How can I recognise it when it appears?

Once we have determined which conditions (hysteria, etc.) are necessary and sufficient conditions, this means that the removal or absence of anyone of them from an abduction case invalidates the entire theory. The theory is in ruins. If t4e experiment fails, down come~ the entire edifice. There are no "ifs" and "buts" about it, one cannot suddenly shift your definitions. The theory is Dead In The Water!

It is the definitions of individual elements and their necessity to be present that defines the whole model. Take one away, and the model collapses. Remove resistors from your TV set and the drama disappears.
Flexibility and Richness

Flexibility and richness of explanatory power are judged these days as poor criteria for any theory. If a theory predicts that certain events or phenomena will behave in a certain way, and the predicted behaviour takes a different course, such a flexible and rich theory will often be able to account for the unexpected results. For example, if it is predicted that extraterrestrials will do this or that, and the expected events fail to appear, such a theory will be able to give an explanation for the discrepancy. And if the aliens do none of these things, then the aliens have a reason for doing nothing. So no matter what behaviour the aliens do or do not carry out, this is still explained by the ET theory. In other words, the ETH has great, indeed unlimited, flexibility. There is always some property of the theory to cover every eventuality, and this flexibility gives the theory great richness of explanatory power.

In contrast, Newton's theory of planetary motion is very restrictive in what it can and cannot explain. It applies only to areas involving inverse square fields of attraction and cannot be applied, for instance, to explanations of planetary formation. It addresses a specific area of astronomical phenomena, and does not cross into areas completely separate to such phenomena.

Now we have shown above that one of the major flaws of theory design flexibility and richness of explanatory power applies to the ETH. So does the Psychosocial Hypothesis suffer this same major flaw? I contend that it does. Consider the following:

The Psychosocial Hypothesis posits that hysteria is a fundamental condition of the phenomenon of alien abduction. No matter how successful or otherwise Janet was in curing the condition through the use of hypnosis, his ideas, theories, and methods of treatment rely exclusively on the manifestation of hysteria as a medical entity. So the Psychosocial model rests its foundation on a medical condition, and the claim is made that this same condition manifests in the abduction phenomenon. When doubt is expressed that hysteria is present in all abductees, the explanation is offered that the cause of the abduction is actually the pervasiveness of sci-fi material (Lawson's experiment).

When it's pointed out that Lawson's virgins are not knowledgeable or interested in sci-fi material, the explanation is offered that they suffer or, indeed, are guilty of cryptamnesia. Thus we have moved from a medical disorder (hysteria) into a completely unrelated area of cultural influence (sci-fi), and on to a suggestion of plagiarism! All within one experiment! This tiny example takes us from medicine to culture to possible criminality. At every step there are grounds for claiming that the theory has been falsified, but such evidence is ignored, to be replaced with the rescue plan.

Perhaps we can give an even more graphic example. The Psychosocial model contains the following elements: Hysteria; Multiple personalities; Folie a deux; Undernourishment; Illness in general; Sleep paralysis; Disturbed body chemistry; Menopause; Anxiety; Lifestyle change; Fatigue; Physical pain; Drugs and medication; Sensory deprivation; Sensory overload; Meditation; Crowd excitement; Phobias; Hope; Expectation; Doubt; Approach of death; Religious ecstasy; Bereavement; Battle excitement; Anticipation; Allergy; Sci-fi; Physical isolation; Lunar phase; Atmospherics; Earthquakes; Immediate crisis; Temporary crisis; Long-term crisis; and Chronic crisis.

So, if it's claimed that hysteria, menopause, doubt and bereavement cause the abduction, and it is pointed out that this does not seem to apply to a particular case, then it can always be claimed that some other element must have been in operation as well. Perhaps an earth tremor was on the way? And if a personal crisis is claimed to be present in the case, then if it's not an immediate crisis, maybe it is a long-term one, or failing that, a chronic one. If one item fails then there is always a fleet of lifeboats around the stricken vessel to effect a rescue.

As if this were not bad enough, Rogerson has recently claimed that "Fears of science; Love-hate feelings toward high tech medicine; Guilt feelings about animal experiments; Loss of autonomy; Feelings about abortion; Other sexual problems; Abductors as parental figures; Abductors as bureaucrats; and more besides, could be expected to play a part". And what is more, abductions "mean different things to different people and serve different purposes", and that "meanings change over time"! So if one set of items are said to explain most abductions in the past, these no longer apply because the items are constantly changing and their meaning constantly changes what is said to apply ten years ago no longer applies today. There seems to be no limit like the ETH on what is or is not applicable: motives change, conditions change, and so we can never get to grips with the phenomenon ever. The flexibility and richness of explanatory power that the Psychosocial model demonstrates is hardly any different from the rescue plans that are offered by proponents of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis.


Perhaps the most influential book ever to fall into the hands of the Psychosocialites was undoubtedly Vallee's Passport to Magonia. No other work has been so misunderstood, misused and abused by psychologically minded ufologists and writers. It is responsible for much of the thinking along the lines of religious visions and folklore, and has, though it was not its aim or design, encouraged more misunderstanding, woolly thinking and uncritical assertions than any other single work. In it, Vallee sought to muse on the parallels between folklore and religious visions on the one hand and UFOs on the other. Passport contains much of the material that is still quoted by Psychosocialites, from Springheel Jack to fairies and intercourse with the Devil.

Passport represented Vallee's first excursion into the world of literature. It is not about UFOs, does not claim to be, and never has its author claimed so. Indeed, Vallee's many warnings in the book that it is not a scientific book, and that it does not even address the problem of the UFOs, went, by most readers, completely unheeded. However, this fact proved to be no curb on psychologically minded enthusiasts when it came to explaining UFOs.

On the first page of Vallee's Preface he states that "the physical characteristics, the psychological behaviour, and the motivation of their (the UFOs') occupants ... are the subject of Passport to Magonia". And on the very same page he says, "It is not a scientific book". On the following page he says, "The public is greatly interested in the possible scientific solutions to the flying saucer problem ... But this book does not answer this need. I say it once more: this is not a scientific book." And a little later, "I am not trying to solve any problem, to promote any theory ... I frankly confess it: I entirely forgot that I was a scientist by profession when I began the manuscript of Passport to Magonia", All these warnings, cautions and qualifying statements are made before we get to Chapter One!

There follows a very interesting collection of UFO cases, examples from fairy lore and religious visions, and comments by churchmen. Some of the accounts, especially from fairy lore, are so atmospheric that one could almost picture oneself in fairyland. The book is interesting and charming. At the end of the book Vallee points out how all these reports (of UFOs, fairies, religious visions) seem to suggest a common pattern regarding the formation of human beliefs. He shows how it may be possible that similar phenomena may be responsible for these beliefs. And then he underscores his point that this observation "has little to do with the problem of knowing whether UFOs are physical objects or not". For it tells us about belief and not fact. Now the important lesson from this is that a belief tells us nothing about the phenomenon we learn nothing of UFOs, fairies or angels, from what people believe the phenomenon to be.

So what is the value of Passport to Magonia? Its value is in suggesting avenues of enquiry into UFO reports that may contain similar or the same common elements as appear in accounts of fairies and angels. There are many such clues within Vallee's book, but I have not seen recognition of this fact in the UFO literature. No articles or books have appeared drawing attention to the common elements and avenues of experimentation suggested in the reports in Passport. Fairies and extraterrestrials may be a myth, but this observation is not a solution to the mystery of either fairies or UFOs. I'm not saying it's not the right solution. I'm not even saying it's the wrong solution. I'm saying that it's no solution at all! And calling UFOs and fairies 'folklore' is no solution either.

Perhaps I can illustrate this vital point. If I hide behind a hedge armed with a clay-pigeon catapult and launch several clay pigeons over the heads of an unsuspecting group of people on the other side of the hedge, this might generate a number of accounts amongst the witnesses. These same witnesses may come to the belief that the clay pigeons are, in fact, extraterrestrial craft. So we have reports containing hard information (speed, colour, shape, etc.), and the belief amongst some or all of the witnesses that they are extraterrestrial. Now it may be claimed later that these accounts represent folklore, but labelling them thus does not solve the nature and origin of the objects. Some believe it's a myth, some that it's folklore, but none know that they're clay pigeons. But one may be able to solve the puzzle by identifying the meaningful information in the reports.

Passport to Magonia represented an opportunity for those who had not undergone the rigours of training in scientific method a way of "explaining" UFOs and abductions. It became the archetypal Free Lunch where solutions could be asserted when lack of scientific knowledge and methods had prevented solutions before.

Confusing Criticism with Validation

How can it be that anyone can confuse the criticism of one theory (your opponent's) with the establishment of ones own? Amazing as it seems, this does actually happen. One famous and respected UFO writer (I shall spare his blushes and not name him) has said:
I cannot prove (the ETH) wrong ... All I can do is set out the aspects of the abduction phenomenon which discourage me from seeing them as physical events. None of these is sufficient to invalidate the (ETH); but together, they do, I think, show it to be weaker than it appears at first sight. Equally, none of them is sufficient to establish beyond question a psychosocial scenario, but together, 1 suggest, they show it to be a more plausible interpretation."
If you make a criticism of someone else's theory, this does not add to the likelihood of a different theory (ones own) being any more valid than before. Your theory does not suddenly gain strength or validity by the mere fact of your criticising another. Even if you were able to prove the other (ETH) theory wrong, so that it could never raise its head again, this still has zero effect on the strengths or weaknesses of your own. So claiming your own theory is more probable or plausible purely on the grounds of criticising another indicates a fundamental error of reasoning and a confusion of the most basic principles in an argument. The strengths or weaknesses of one theory have no effect on those of another, for each stands or falls on its merits. 

Argument from Personal Incredulity

This argument is a very weak one. It relies for its power entirely on disbelief and/or ignorance. Because an event, fact, theory or statement seems to contradict common sense, then this apparent contradictory event, fact, theory or statement becomes incredible. So when Kathy Davis is used as a subject for genetic experimentation, it is disbelieved on the grounds that her medical history makes her a bad choice for such experimentation it is "incredible", or "unlikely", or "hard to believe", or "improbable" that the aliens would choose her as an example of medical robustness.

Now, while this might be very sensible comment for us, it fails to satisfy the possible aims or motivations of the aliens themselves. For unknown intelligences may be especially interested in medical curiosities, and actively seek them out. We, after all, carry out similar experiments on infertile couples seeking to establish a family. But the point is that there is not a single objection that could be raised to the actions, motivations and behaviour of unknown intelligences that could not adequately be explained by ET proponents. I pointed this fact out over ten years ago in the UFO literature.

But this deep flaw in the ET hypothesis is ignored by Psychosocialites, to be replaced by general incredulity. Spencer and Evans are perhaps the most frequent users of this argument from personal incredulity. I have every sympathy for their plight; it can be very exasperating trying to point out how unlikely it is that such medical "rejects" should be chosen for these experiments, but I'm afraid that incredulity cuts no ice in any argument, whether it defies common sense or goes against received wisdom. There are many people in the world, for example, who feel exactly the same way about the Theory of Relativity and Darwinian Evolution, but such appeals to personal incredulity just do not address the real issues.

Disproving the Impossible

Perhaps, more than any other aspect of the Psychosocial Hypothesis, its most remarkable feature is that it seeks to fmd an alternative interpretation of a physical impossibility: namely, the abduction of humans by aliens. Half of the hypothesis consists in trying to refute an impossible claim. How can this be so? I have to admit, it is precisely this aspect of the theory that has puzzled me the most. Now if one claims that an event is very unlikely, and that the claims for the event cannot seriously be entertained that the laws of physics are confounded, the actions and behaviour of the aliens incomprehensible then does it come about that one should spend any time and effort trying to prove its impossibility? If all the basic laws, theories and observations of the hard sciences appear contravened, and no other evidence has been detected in these disciplines, then why bother refuting the notion at all?

But I have an idea. The reason why so many books and articles have been written, and why so many pointless debates have sought to disprove the impossible, is that refuting a rival theory, no matter how absurd, illogical or fundamentally flawed that theory may be, constitutes, in the mind of the amateur theorist, an argument in favour of his own. That's the closest I can get to understanding the situation that exists in European ufology today that nobody knows how to construct a theory, nor what such a theory demands by way of definitions, parameters or validation.

When criticising a rival theory by all means point out the flaws that might exist as the very basis of that theory the suppositions, assumptions, errors in logic or reasoning, the lack of definitions, of tests of falsifiability errors that invalidate it as a theory. But once you have done this, and its proponents still fail to take account of these faults, then for goodness sake, don't keep hitting your head against the brick wall. If they are not amenable to reasoned argument, then it is very unlikely that they will ever change their position. Psychoanalysis has been totally discredited by modern psychology, psychiatry and neurology, but the persistence of the species is due entirely to its believers' refusal to accept the damning evidence falsification of Freudian and Jungian theories has had no effect on their beliefs. We shall just have to wait for the survivors to die out they will never change.

What you can and must do, though, is insist that their experiments be as rigorously designed as possible just like yours are. By all means point out errors in their methodology. What the investigators believe is irrelevant; what counts above all else are the results of their investigations the reports or accounts. And so it is with the theorist all that counts is the theory and its testing. Other investigators' political persuasions, their belief in their interpretations, their views and comments on individual cases, their religious persuasions, the colour of their socks all this is absolutely irrelevant. Just concentrate on the reports and results never take your eye off the ball nothing else matters.

Interpretational Infinity
"I had not always been so enamoured of science. In college I passes through a phase during which literary criticism struck me as the most thrilling of intellectual endeavours. Late one night, however, after too many cups of coffee, too many hours spent slogging through yet another interpretation of James Joyce's Ulysses, I had a crisis of faith. Very smart people had been arguing for decades over the meaning of Ulysses. But one of the messages of modern criticism, and of modern literature, was that all texts are 'ironic': they have multiple meanings, none of them definitive. Oedipus Rex, The Inferno, even the Bible are in a sense 'just kidding', not to be taken too literally. Arguments over meaning can never be resolved, since the only true meaning of a text is the text itself. Of course, this message applied to critics too. One was left with an infinite regress of interpretations, none of which represented the final word. But everyone still kept arguing! To what end? For each critic to be more clever, more interesting, than the rest? It all began to seem pointless." (John Morgan, The End of Science, 1996)
The ET Hypothesis is entirely based on interpretation of an anomalous event which is not true of Ulysses or Oedipus Rex. This interpretation forms the abduction text. This text is then taken by both sides to be a claim for an impossible story. So the witness has the anomalous experience and, together with the abduction investigator, interprets this anomalous event as a true account of abduction by aliens. The opposition, meanwhile, looks at his claim for the impossible story, and what do they do? They ignore the original event, and seek to disprove the existing interpretation. What is more, they seek to reinterpret the original interpretation. The original anomalous event is forgotten by both sides, so we end up with one side claiming that the interpretation of the event is true, while the other side seeks to disprove the impossible claim.

Like John Horgan's experience with Ulysses, interpretation follows interpretation follows interpretation, and none can claim to be definitive. But, unlike literature, the text of the original abduction narrative happens to contain hidden facts that reveal how the whole story came into being. But the interpreters are so busy interpreting that they fail to spot the meaningful information that the text contains they take their eye off the ball, the original anomalous event. This is exactly what is happening between the ET school and the Psychosocial school: one has already come to an interpretation the ETH the second seeks to explain this interpretation by offering another interpretation for the impossible claim. Neither go back to the text to seek information that has no connection with the truth or falsity of the impossible claim!

One side simply accepts the basic impossible claim. The other side searches up and down for an off-the-shelf scenario that best fits the impossible claim. The Psychosocial off-the-shelf answer Freudism/Jungism bears absolutely no relation to the impossible claim, nor the hidden information. But the text of the original interpretation contains information just as significant as that described by Hufford in the Old Hag phenomenon. The new information is different, but just as significant. My findings complement Hufford's, they certainly don't contradict or conflict with them.

From Abuse of Terms to Terms of Abuse

The Psychosocial Hypothesis is riddled with linguistic abuses. These take the form of mistaking or confusing:

Motivation for Actions; Opinion and Incredulity for Probability; Wishes for Ability; Conscious intent for Subconscious; Interpretation for Fact; Purpose for Design; Need for Gain; Dissociation for Hypnosis; Identicality for Analogy; Criticism for Validation; Delusion for Phenomena. This list is by no means exhaustive, but what many of the items have in common is that generalised colloquialisms are mistaken for precise definitions. Thus, hysteria is seen as a type of behaviour rather than a precise psychiatric diagnosis. Probabilities are expressed in terms of opinion. Analogy is taken as being "the same as". Need is defined by end results. Wishes are confused with actual ability and action.

Within the whole Psychosocial Hypothesis there is not a single condition that carries a precise definition. And where a condition is mentioned (e.g., hysteria), its definition and its almost non-existence is either not known, or not investigated. No effort is ever made to write in anything other than generalities. For example, many terms used in the model have more than one meaning, but just as Humpty Dumpty says in Through the Looking-Glass, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean", and "when I make a word do a lot of work like that, I always pay it extra".

From abuse of terms emerges the terms of abuse. Thus, 'subconscious' carries the connotation of intentional deceit. 'Purpose' and 'need' also carry implications of ulterior motives. And when a few proponents of the hypothesis find that they cannot answer points in the argument, there is outright character assassination. This personal abuse most commonly takes the form of nasty, prurient and vicious innuendo in the Freudian mode. References are made to the fact that the witness is 'hysterical', or that their experience displays repressed sexual wishes, feelings, ideas or images.

For example, nasal implants have significant sexual overtones, and that "a Freudian would have a field day with your account". This is a particularly revealing comment, for it shows that the person making such a statement is ignorant of the fact that Freud had to give up his career as a hospital anatomist due to his chronic cocaine addiction. He had studied the anaesthetic properties of the drug, but became addicted to it. His increasing addiction forced his departure from the hospital to try to find an occupation where he could work alone and so keep his addiction secret. He underwent numerous attempts at corrective surgery on his nasal passages due to the damage caused by his continuous snorting of cocaine.

His nasty, prurient and aggressive behaviour towards his unfortunate patients and his growing prurient turn of mind coincides with his dependence on the drug. His particular brand of accusatory model of psychology fits perfectly the disturbed and meandering mind of the chronic drug addict. Now, I'm not saying all Psychosocial proponents behave like this, but when I read the scandalous excuse that the Psychosocial model cannot be tested against known abduction cases for fear of libel, then clearly character assassination forms a very nasty undercurrent to the model. One is deeply shocked to find such excuses in people claiming to be members of civilised society.

Summing Up

Now that it has been shown that the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis and the Psychosocial Hypothesis are fundamentally flawed, what can we say in retrospect to sum up their position within ufology and society? Well, the first is that the idea of extraterrestrials is not the product of the 20th, 19th or 18th centuries. The history of the idea reaches back to the Ancient Greeks. The subject has appeared in debate in virtually every century since Plato and Aristotle. Extraterrestrials have featured in some of the most heated arguments in religion, philosophy, cosmology, fiction and science.

Some theologians have argued that God would not create countless other worlds to be left barren of life, for this denied His benevolence and omnipotence. Others have disagreed with this as it might displace Man as God's unique creation Christ might have to undergo countless Redemptions on countless other worlds. This doubt concerning the unique position of Man in God's Creation is expressed in the Psalm:

When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers,
The moon and the stars, which Thou has ordained,
What is man, that Thou art mindful of him,
And the Son of Man that Thou visitest him.

Authors, artists, poets, theologians, philosophers and scientists have found the idea of extraterrestrials an inspiration for their works, and many have made valuable contributions to the debate from both sides of the argument.

Scientists have used extraterrestrial ideas to increase public interest in astronomy, and employed them, as indeed NASA does to this day, as a way of persuading government bodies and institutions to fund astronomical research. Astronomers and other scientists used extraterrestrial ideas in their works as a way of interesting the general public in science. The volume of sales of such works is testament to the appeal that such ideas have on the minds of many. On Richard Proctor's death, The Times of 14 September 1888 said that he "had probably done more than any other man during the present century to promote an interest among the ordinary reading public in scientific subjects". While the American astronomer, C. A. Young declared: "As an expounder and populariser of science he stands, I think, unrivalled in English literature." Proctor wrote 57 books, mainly on astronomy, and over 500 essays, not including his 83 technical papers. Camille Flammarion was only more prolific in output: his Merveilles celestes, for example, sold over 60,000 copies, and his Astronomie populaire sold 100,000 copies within a few years more than any other scientific work.

The foundation of many of the world's greatest astronomical observatories was directly due to the influence of astronomers using extraterrestrial ideas in their works. Proctor's assessment of such ideas influencing the popularity of astronomy is certainly true speaking of his own use of the device in his own works, he said: "The interest with which astronomy is studied by many who care little for other sciences is due chiefly to the thoughts which celestial bodies suggest respecting life in other worlds." (Proctor, 1880)

Despite the debacle of the Mars Canal controversy, which wasted untold man-hours of observation and ruined so many careers and friendships, the focus on the issue that this caused immensely benefited planetary astronomy as an area of study. The lessons learnt from over-reliance on instruments used to the very limit of their design capabilities, and the influence of preconceived ideas concerning extraterrestrial life on astronomical observation have paid dividends in assessing cosmological and astronomical theories. I find it not a little ironic that, in its own small way, the move by some ufologists to ban the use of hypnosis one of the few tools available to ufologists as a means of studying some forms of amnesia in UFO and abduction cases would be the equivalent of confiscating all the astronomical telescopes from the world's observatories after the Mars Canal fiasco!

From the list of contributors to the debate on extraterrestrial life it is clear that some of the finest minds have applied their thoughts to the problem. Their efforts, whether they ever turn out to be right or wrong, have greatly enriched the lives of many and their legacy is indeed an honourable one concerning a noble question. So when a witness undergoes an anomalous experience, or cannot identify an object in the sky, but interprets their experience in extraterrestrial terms, they have a long and honourable tradition stretching behind them. That many sightings turn out to be mundane objects does not explain the mechanisms of misperception that might be operating. The niceties of sophistication of theory construction or of observational deduction are not widely known outside science, but this has more to do with the generally low standard of science education in our schools. One can hardly blame the witness for that.

For centuries rabbinical scholars have sought to find meaning in an impossible story. With each succeeding century rabbis have written interpretations of this story, and interpretations of those interpretations, and commentaries on interpretations. But after centuries of scholarly study, what is the sum total of the knowledge or truths gained? Absolutely nothing! They are still arguing. Hermeneutics has a perverse and insidious influence on civilisation for it distorts and perverts the truth. It appeals to the literati, the politicians and the media because its essence is that what you don't know by way of facts, you simply make up. This is then foisted onto the unsuspecting public as the truth. Psychobiographies, psychohistory, psychoart and psychopolitics are all ways of obtaining the Free Lunch at other peoples' expense.

The sceptics and Psychosocialites are the rabbinical scholars of the UFO world, and it is upsetting to see ones decent colleagues seduced by hermeneutics and waste so much time, effort and brain-power for so little result. The attitude of some sceptics in degrading and impugning the character of the average witness in ufology is a disgrace to the subject and of civilised behaviour to ones fellow man. The essence of the Psychosocial Hypothesis is of cheapening the witness's puzzling experience, and questioning their basic honesty as a human being. The hypothesis and some of its supporters tells us more about their own character and their ignorance of even the most basic facts of science than it ever tells us of the true nature of the UFO or abduction. Time: that arbiter between truth, ignorance or mere interpretational propaganda, will reveal who, in the UFO world, will be remembered for their contributions to our subject.