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This is where I keep various papers and essays that I have written from an academic viewpoint, on controversial subjects such as :

Alien Abdcuction Experience
Near-Death Experience

please click here for these articles (but forgive the layout - they have yet to be organised efficiently, and there are many more to come, including placebo efefcts and Remote Staring detection!!!)

The Alien Abduction Experience
Science Fiction or Science Farce?

The phenomenon of the Alien Abduction Expereince (AAE) is a prevailing, world wide issue that has proposed many problems for the scientific community in terms of establishing a parsimonious explanation. The interest for psychologists lies in its profound affect on individuals who report AAE and the implications that may have on the existing cultural tenets of the Western world view. The etiology of the alien abduction experience is examined in relation to current theories; psychopathology, personality, psychodynamics, electromagnetism, hoaxes, false-memory syndrome (suggestability, hypnotizability, fantasy proneness), and sleep disorders, in specific sleep paralysis. Subjects who have reported being victims of Alien Abduction(s) will hither to be referred to as experiencers (so as not to presume an actual alien abduction has taken place nor to imply deliberate deception on their part).
In 1992, Budd Hopkins, David Jacobs and Ron Westrum, published their claim that 3.7million Americans have been abducted by aliens at some point in their lives, the Roper Poll. This incredible claim was based on a questionairre that is highly suspect in its ability to identify such an experience and has been dismissed by the wider scientific community based on grounds of severely faulty logic. However, it has been embraced with enthusiasm by much of the public and media, encouraging the fascination with this modern mystery. But beyond the dreams of science fiction enthusiasts, popular culture and media hype, there lies a far more serious and intriguing issue; the phenomenon of the Alien Abduction Experience (AAE). Contrary to popular scientific belief, there is a growing community of people who genuinely claim they have been subject to alien abductions – people who do not appear to be seeking celebrity status and money, do not appear to have any clear psychiatric or psychological disorder. In fact, as a result of the consistent narratives of individual accounts of the experience and the consistent symptoms which follow their experience, a clear set criteria of this alien abduction experience has emerged. Many different areas of psychology have been involved in trying to find a parsimonious explanation for the AAE, but so far there has been little success in establishing any theory that can consistently account for all the elements of this traumatic phenomenon. This is a difficult issue for many to address as the possibility of aliens existing and furthermore having capabilities to abduct people, challenges our sense of safety and predominance in the Universe along with the great challenge it presents to western dualistic thinking.
Definition of Alien Abduction Experience:
Alien abduction, as reported by experiencers, shows a strong consistency among the individual accounts. Those who experience AAE are coherent and yet personal in their interpretations of the proposed events. Mack (1994) and Rodeghier (1994b) have proposed the following as the basic and most relevant elements of the AAE:
Being forcibly taken to unfamiliar territory by a nonhuman technologically superior entity. Secondly, the experiencer is the subject of intrusive medical procedures and thirdly, the experiencer will show appropriate emotional affect as a result of the experience.
Typically, the beings are described as humanoid, approximately 3-4 ft tall grey in colour with large black eyes. They appear to have the ability to levitate and move through walls etc – experiencers tend to attribute this to technology rather than “super powers” and have no individual features by which to tell them apart. Experiencers often report the feeling of “missing time” – a period of time which they have apparently lost, having no recollection of their personal whereabouts. It has been proposed (Newman and Baumeister, 1994;1996), that this is merely a Western fantasy probably due to media coverage and science fiction being readily available to the western public, however, Mack - a psychiatrist of Harvard University who has worked with many Experiencers in counselling- has examined cases in which the experiencer reports similar beings and events despite being from markedly different cultural backgrounds such as Africa, Brazil and Chile. Perhaps the interviewers interpretation of the reports are also influenced by popular belief independent of the experiencers perception- this would certainly be of valuable study in establishing a more specific criteria for a description of aliens. The experiencers are distressed to be taken against their will and consciously struggle against the feeling of complete physical paralysis. The struggle is usually found to be unsuccessful and they find themselves involved in what seems to be biological procedures, lying on a table with a bright light over head. The research seems to focus on the reproductive organs and sinus cavities. It has been proposed that this account is based on experiencers previous medical examinations (Miller 1994), despite certain procedural differences between normal medical practice and reports of AAE. Psychological procedures are seemingly conducted by use of holograms, mental imagery and lights – the beings are frequently described as telepathic.
In the aftermath, experiencers tend to seek psychiatric help and are inclined to desire a diagnosis rather than believe they were indeed abducted by aliens. These patients are often diagnosed with Post-Traumatic-stress Disorder (PTSD) but certain specific symptoms such as avoidance of linked stimuli (particularly medical or dental procedures, bright lights, even avoidance of UFO literature) and locus of experience. Also sleep disorders, autonomic hyper-arousal, intrusive images; this led to a new classification of disorder known as Experienced Anomalous Trauma (EAT)- coined by Wilson (1990) as a traumatic reaction to an unknown event. Experiencers often take preventatory measures against future occurrences. Experiencers tend to have cuts, bruises, scoopmarks and/or rashes of unexplained origin, sometimes even implants are reported but this could hardly be attributed with great confidence to alien medical procedures as anything removed tends to of benign origin. No implant or residue of alien (or unusual) origin has ever been produced for scientific examination (Jacobs 1993). Although Mack ascertains that the experiencers' accounts correlate even in the smallest details that are not available to the media, it would be of worthy investment to have more cross-cultural research conducted to ascertain more certainty about the exact etiology of this modern syndrome.
Examining the Psychopathology of Experiencers:
It has been hypothesised by some that the AAE is a manifestation some mental illness; Munchausen syndrome, multiple personality disorder, dissociative disorders and various psychosis could account for images of aliens, self inflicted marks or even psychosomatic injuries, and give rise to reason such as attention seeking – Munchausen syndrome. However there appears to be no one disorder that could account for all the specific symptoms of AAE. On examining the psychopathology of experiencers, we find rather intriguing results. Many suggest that the AAE is a symptom of some abnormal psychology and therefore we would expect that experiencers will differ from normal people psychologically. However, most studies which compared the experiencers to a control group found there to be no significant difference in psychopathology - Spanos (1993), Parnell and Sprinkle (1990). Apart from those suffering trauma (PTSD/EAT), Mack (1994), Powers (1994) found that the results could not identify illness that would cause the AAE, but were a result of the experience. However the methodology of some experiments has been criticised; Appelle, points out that Mack used only 4 of his 76 subjects of AAE due to limitations on time and money; Jacobson and Bruno (1994) gathered the narrative of twelve experiencers personal histories and of their “abduction”. Their results showed that there was no evidence of any psychiatric illness in their past, yet two of the patients showed signs of extreme psychiatric disorder around the time of the reported abduction! Further scrutiny of positive correlations have been noted where subjective impressions of second hand biographies were used to assess experiencers yielding results of fantasy- proneness. Clinical impressions have severe limitations in assessing psychopathology especially where no standardised battery of tests is utilised. It seems that although the experiencers appear to be no different from the general population (accounting for AAE stress related trauma), there are bound to be a some people who do show abnormal psychology. It does not mean that this abnormality explains their AAE since their narrative is consistent with those of sound mind.
Personality of Experiencers:
Whilst psycopathology may not give a clear account of what may be causing this phenomena, some researchers have suggested that certain personality syndromes may well predispose specific people to incorporate the UFO material in to their imaginations, then believe these productions to be real events that have occurred. In 1984, Hartman examined individuals who suffered nightmares and found that they commonly shared unusual traits such as difficulty to distinguish between boundaries such as real/unreal, self/nonself and events that they dreamt and real occurrences. This personality syndrome is known as Boundary-Deficit. Boundary –deficit personality also includes other potentially AAE related effects such as difficulty in perceiving time scales, are emotionally sensitive (tendency to feel victimised and powerless) and have a weak personal/sexual identity. Kottmeyer (1988), compared Boundary-Deficit individuals to the content of AAE accounts and noted that such individuals could easily experience, missing time, unexplained scars (origin simply forgotten), and nightmares may well include images of aliens. Together with general sense of powerlessness and feelings of victimisation and social rejection, it is perhaps not surprising that such an unhappy person will be prone to anxiety ridden dreams. Kottmeyer attributes the AAE content of the nightmares to be due to popular culture media and hypnosis. However, Kottmeyer's study was based on speculation and did not involve a systematic study of alien abduction Experiencers. As Kottmeyers work would yeild a test for predictive indicators of a Boundary-Deficit personality when investigating a reported AAE, Spanos et al (1993) found that the AA Experiencers were no different from controls and actually were far from being boundary-deficit. On the contrary, a weak sense of personal/sexual identity among experiencers was found by Slater (1985), but one must wonder if this is not a result of the intrusive experience rather than a cause. Higher rate of Schizoid tendencies was found in some, Parnell and Sprinkle, 1990. Again a high rate of suicide attempts among experiencers in group assessed by Stone and Carmen, 1994 may well be reducible to symptom of PTSD/EAT rather than a personality syndrome.
Perhaps the conflicting and rather inconsistent results are a clear call for less variation across the studies in methodology and analysis and even if some do show some symptoms of disorder, we still must account for those who don't and are consistent in AAE narrative.
Newman and Baumeister(1996) theorized that the AAE was an attempt by some to “escape the self” – avoidance of meaningful thought via the use of fantasy. They hypothesise that masochistic fantasy is an viable explanation to the AAE; pain, loss of control and humiliation are all effective ways of escaping the self and provide explanations for mysterious scars, and the bizarre nature of the procedures endured by AAE. Again , the influence of media, popular culture and investigators is thought to bring the fantasy to the point of a believed abduction. On analysing Bullard's data on the narrative of several experiencers, Newman and Baumeister found that details of the biological procedure -which entails being naked forced on to a table and viewed by unknown spectators- is consistent with the humiliation and sexual nature of masochistic fantasies. 50% males and 80% report this kind of examination; this correlates with experience of masochists.
In opposition to Newman and Baumeister, John Mack has argued that the scars received do not follow any known masochistic pattern and report no pleasure in recalling the experience. The wounds are inconsistent with masochism but show consistency among experiencers (Jacobs 1992) and are in body places that are inaccessable to the individual. Both men and women do not report any sexual arousal, in fact the more intense the experience the more anxiety and distress is suffered. Mack (1994) points out that the difference in the examination statistics is more likely to be due to the fact that men and women will respectively be examined in different ways due to the accessability of reproductive organs. Also he notes that pain is not an ongoing issue during the experience as the pain can be so intense that they experiencer reports some form of dissociation. Here it is further hypothesised that “missing time “ may be experienced due to the sense of continuity being compromised by the ego in order to retain conciousness without disturbing images/sensations (Davies and Frawley, 1999). Hence the AAE does not clearly fit the masochist' behaviour or desires.
It has also been hypothesised that a certain Psychically Sensitive Personality could account for the AAE. Many of the experiencers report having increased psychic ability due to the “abduction” (Bullard 1994; Ring 1992) and some report having long histories of paranormal phenomena before the “abduction” (Basterfield 1994, Bullard 1997). Ring (1990) found that experiencers tend to have similar personality traits to those who consider themselves psychic. In either case shared traits does not suggest a possible explanation t o the AAE. Perhaps people who believe they have been abducted by aliens are predisposed to believe in the paranormal or maybe only psychically-sensitive people are capable of having such experiences, be they actual abductions or some other manifestation of a psychic experience. It could be noted that those individuals who have had long histories of such unusual events will be inclined to believe in the paranormal as a suitable explanation.
Proposed Psychodynamic explanations of AAE:
A psychodynamic approach has been used to explain the AAE in terms of symbolism used as a means for the mind to deal with anxiety. Throughout history, certain themes of folklore have prevailed such as fairies, succubi, angels, and goblins. These themes have been compared to the modern AAE and are thought by some to have a common origin within the psyche (Sagan 1996; Vallee, 1969). Upholders of the psychodynamic interpretation purport that the AAE is a product of the unconscious mind, although there is debate over the cause of such manifestations. Powers (1994) proposes that the AAE is a “Screen Memory” resulting from traumatic childhood abuse. She suggests that abduction by aliens will serve as a suitable memory to avoid recollection of their real abusive past and will restore more meaning to their lives (they were selected and participated in interstellar research as opposed to being a mere victim). Many researches have found a correlation between AAE reports and childhood sexual abuse, (Laibow,1989; Ring and Rosing, 1990; Powers, 1994). Although there is a persistent correllation between childhood abuse and AAE and Powers noted elevated levels of PTSD scores in both victims of child abuse and AAE, there is no evidence to suggest that childhood abuse is in fact the cause of AAE - any connection is based on mere speculation. Furthermore there is no reason given to suggest why abduction by aliens would be a “suitable screen memory”, why would it be any less traumatic? The added stress of being victim of such a socially denied concept, and the consistency of the reported experiences supposedly chosen by the unconscious as a “screen” (which is ineffective as a stress-relieving mechanism) and the fact the Laibow, 1989 showed both AAE and childhood trauma reports from same individuals makes the Screen Memory rather implausable if it is not screening the abuse. Based on the evidence and rule of parsimony, this theory does not provide an adequate explanation. However, an interesting link between childhood trauma and AAE has been suggested by Mukerjee, (1995) who noted that the hippocampus of child abuse victims was smaller than controls and hence the short term memory and levels of the hormone cortisol (which is responsible for certain emotional responses) are effected. Consequently, Mukerjee has hypothesised that this alteration of the hippocampus, predisposes such individuals to experience deficits in memory and dissociative tendencies. This could perhaps lead to some partial explanation of missing time and distorted memories of childhood abuse, but many of the AAE reports are by people who show no signs of childhood trauma but are consistent with their reports.
In 1976, Grof revealed a similarities between imagery reported by LSD users and perinatal imagery; resultantly, Lawson, (1985; 1984) has argued that the AAE is in psychodynamic terms, an unconscious representation of the experience of birth. He proposes that he lights and journey in to the craft is symbolic of the birth canal and the appearance of the aliens is “foetal like”. Furthermore, he reckons that the doors and hallways represent the cervix and that flat implements and tools used by aliens is symbolic of the placenta. This seems perhaps that Lawson is begging the question where anything encountered will automatically fit some element of his theory by speculative assosciation, also, it would seem that the birth experience would be in reverse as AAE reporters are being taken in to the UFO. However, to support his theory Lawson has suggested that oxytocin – a hormone that is present during contractions in the womb – is responsible for the feeling of missing time; memory loss has been shown in lab rats who have been injected with oxytocin. He contends that birth memories are “….sufficiently reliable” (pg213), despite there being no established link or mechanism that links such experiences with the actual event of birth.
The consistent specifics of the reports of those individuals who recall forced hybrid breeding with the aliens, have been purported to be reliving an abortion experience (Stacy, 1992). Stacy regards the AAE in this condition to be the relieving of guilt associated with termination of a foetus – he argues that the hybrid baby allows the experiencer to believe that their terminated baby is in fact safe in some celestial abode. The aliens are said to be angelic nurses caring for the child aboard the “mother” ship. Stacy also portends that both men and women make use of such a psychodynamic mechanism in order to relive psychological tension. He even extends the abortion anxiety to those who have never experienced a terminated pregnancy; he claims that many people share the moral anxiety of the issue, and may not even be aware that this is so. This, according to Stacy is why AAE occurs in men and women whether or not they have experienced abortion. There have been no systematic tests to verify this claim and although this theory can account for wide diversity among experiencers, it doesn't account for the reports from young children who would not yet have an understanding of the abortion concept.
Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious theory has gained much support in recent years among researchers of parapsychology as it offers an explanation for a multitude of psychic phenomena. It has been explained as an inherited impersonal, collective, and psychic consciousness, which is universally identical in each person and independent of our own personal consciousness (Jung 1936). UFO sightings and AAE has been proposed as some manifestation of imagery associated with the collective unconscious (Jung, 1959; Grosso, 1985); the purpose of this imagery is to bring environmental issues to light as we are seen to be responsible for the state of the Earth. The archetype of the AAE is thought to be of unsympathetic beings exploiting mankind to save their own dying race; hence we are to heed this psychic warning and address such issues as global warming and endangered species. Grosso has proposed that these experiences are an essential mechanism of the evolution of the human psyche; similarly Ring (1992) perceives this as the conscious evolution of our innate abilities to perceive other, dimensions and realms which are said to be ontologically real. In reference to Jung's Collective Unconscious theory many other proponents of the AAE as some archetypal message, believe that the purpose of the experience is that of a warning against future catastrophes and that we should endeavour to understand this phenomenon as a psychic defence mechanism (Vallee, 1990; Mack 1994). Although this meta-physical approach appeals to some sense of parsimony, it remains highly speculative and devoid of any evidence to explain the physical symptoms of AAE.
Electromagnetism and the Frontal Lobe:
There has been much research carried out in reference to electromagnetism; there are suggestions that sites of anomalous lights in the sky – UFO sightings- and AAE can be attributed to strain on the tectonic plates beneath certain locations on the Earth (Persinger, 1990). Accordingly, the theory proposes that the distorted or unusual electromagnetic fields that occur as a result of tectonic strain, will affect the human brain in such a was as to cause anomalous experiences. Persinger, (1990) and Blackmore, (1994) conducted experiments involving electromagnetic fields directed at the human brain, and demonstrated that the temporal lobe is in fact affected and subjects report feeling sensations such as being lifted up and being physically pulled by an unseen force. Blackmore argues that such experiences provide adequate ground for AAE stories to be made, however, this again does not explain the consistent and specifically structured content of AAE narratives. Further, Persinger (1990), points out that in order for electromagnetism to have such an effect, the energy would have to be highly localised and sufficiently intense – similar to that of neurosurgery. Whether it is possible for naturally occurring electromagnetism to specifically meet the necessary conditions of such experiences is highly questionable. The temporal lobe lability (assumed to rate the suscepteaility to electromagnetism) was assessed by Spanos et al (1993) and it was found that there was no difference in lability between control subjects and alien abduction experiencers.
The idea that the AAE explained by way of a hoax where individuals deliberately deceive others in order to gain psychososcial rewards/financial profit and celebrity status has been proposed by many including Klass (1988). Klass points out that there is an abundance of UFO books, television shows and films available to the general public and so it would be easy for a deceitful individual to give a fairly convincing story as it would tend to correlate with the generally accepted steroeptypical experience. Klass has suggested Maunchhausen Syndrome or Factitious Disorder (DSMIV pg 472-474) as the root of the AAE but the characteristics of this do not fit with the experiencers behaviour ie experiencers tend not to have had a history of hospitalisation for false illness. Although there are bound to be certain people who will hoax for gain, they do not fit the AAE profile and genuine experiencers seek help not fame and are reluctant to discuss their experiences for fear of ridicule, again the narratives are too consistent in small details for hoaxes to account for the AAE.
False-Memory Syndrome:
As many of the AAE are recalled form memory by way of hypnosis, the accuracy of the experiencers memories are put to question. Under hypnotic regression, tests have been shown that the certainty of pseudomemories increases; Farthing (1992) ; Smith (1983). It has therefore been suggested that inaccurate hypnotic recall (where the subject is highly suggestible) accounts for the creation of many memories of AAE – More AAE accounts are recalled under hypnosis than by natural recollection (Bullard, 1987, 1994). However this does not mean that the recalled memories are false and does not account for those AAE memories recalled without hypnosis- approx 30%, which still correlate strongly in narrative to those hypnotically recalled- Mack (1995) ; Bullard (1989) . Bullard has proposed that the form and content of AAE is independent of hypnosis but the quantity of material “recovered” is not. Using the Creative Imagination Scale (Wilson and Barber 1998), Rodeghier, Goodpaste and Blatterbauer, demonstrated that experiencers are no more hypnotically suggestible than general population. On the other hand, Lawson, 1997; found that there to be similarities between hypnotically recalled AAE and imaginative accounts of what it would be like, however, Randles (1994) noted inconsistencies between accounts given by subjects asked to imagine the AAE, and the prototype of alien motives and procedures. Also there was markedly no “memory” of entry into the craft. It should be noted however that Randles used British subjects and then were compared to American prototype – perhaps this suggests a cultural difference in media influence.
Wilson and Barber (1981, 1983) determined the “fantasy- prone” person , as having ability to hallucinate at will and have imaginary experiences which they describe are as being totally real and have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality. It was shown by Wilson and Barber that fantasy-proneness correlates with hypnotizability. Such fantasy-prone individuals have tendencies to report fake pregnancies, claim to be psychically aware of other dimension which they can travel to via astral projection; Bullard (1994) suggested that AAE reporters are of the same population as fantasy-prone individuals. Contrary to expectations, studies have shown that those who report AAE are no more fantasy-prone than the general public (Rodeghier et al 1991) using the Inventory of Childhood Memories and Imaginings (ICMI) which was specific to measuring fantasy-proneness. Spanos et al. also found no statistically significant difference between controls and experiencers using a multitude of tests including ICMI, Bett's Questionairre on Mental Imagery and the Absorption scale from the Differential Personality scale; also Lynn and Rhue, 1988 found that experiencers tended to consistently score within the mid range of the general population on the ICMI scale . Tests which did find some general similarities between the groups, have been heavily criticised on methodological grounds. For example, Bartholomew, Basterfield and Howard (1991), found that 87% of experiencers each showed at least one symptom of fantasy-proneness- but their assessment was based on retrospective analysis of subjects narratives and not by any direct test for fantasy-proneness. In addition to this, they had no comparison group and used a mixed group of people - not specifically abduction experiencers. The integrity of fantasy-proneness as an explanation for the AAE is severely doubted on the grounds that experiencers do not fit the fantasy-prone personality type.
The Hypothesis of Sleep Paralysis:
Sleep Paralysis has often been proposed as the origin of the AAE, as many of the reported AAE cases were during night when victims were in bed/asleep; Blackmore (1997). When sleep paralysis occurs, individuals report physical paralysis (except their eyes), unexplained fear or anxiety and often hallucinate unfriendly beings in their bedroom (Baker 1990). The experience of sleep paralysis has been compared to the AAE narrative drawing on similarities, (Spanos 1993). Sleep anomalies appear to have a genetic element as they tend to cross generations within families; again another similarity here is that AAE often is reported within families. (Honda, Asaka, Tanimura and Furusho, 1983).
In contrast to these suggestive similarities, Mack (1994) points out that many of the abduction experiences occur in the waking state in daytime , often out doors, yet the narratives of experiencers taken in day time/waking state are consistent with those taken whilst in bed. In another case, 40% of subjects in Spanos (1993) study claimed their intense UFO experience was while waking; this suggests that sleep paralysis could not have been occurring during the experience, however, it should be noted that this group included people who were not “abducted” but had unusual encounters or witnessed unexplained lights or missing time. Mack (1994) also notes that sleep paralysis cannot account for the common details (which he claims are not available to or reported through the media) of the experience that goes across culture, age and gender as sleep paralysis is specifically a personal experience.
Similar effects are experienced in a narcoleptic attack where the individual will immediately transpose to REM sleep while seemingly awake to others present. Narcoleptic attacks can occur at any time of day or night, even while the sufferer is actively engaged in some task (Moorcroft 1989). When awaking, the narcoleptic is often unaware of the episode and it has been hypothesised that this provides raw material for experiences of “missing time” and strange encounters. However, images reported tend to be static and not of the same “real” quality as those in sleep paralysis (Roth, 1978). Also during narcolepsy, the limbs tend to go flaccid and so paralysis is not an integral component of this experience.
In his clinical work with experiencers, Mack has found that their nightmares, anxieties and insomnia tend to be resolved with conscious processing of their experience, this implies that their sleep problems are directly related to the AAE, however it could be proposed that the same problems could be resolve in the same way if this was a “screen memory”. The experiencers tend to show phobic reactions to related stimuli –this is not known to be resultant in cases of known sleep paralysis, Mack (1994). He also reports that through the use of electroencephalograph testing, he has found no evidence of any sleep abnormalities due to neurological reasons.
In addition to these problems with sleep abnormalities as an explanation for AAE, there is no apparent reason why during sleep paralysis, the “alien” scenario should be so prevalent. Hufford (1982), examined the phenomenon of the “old Hag” – a common fiendish encounter with similarities to AAE across Newfoundland. He questioned why, if this is to be explained via sleep paralysis, why are there specific narrative contents prevailing across and within cultures?
There have, overall been no direct tests to establish a link between sleep paralysis and AAE, and until such parsimonious guidelines have been established, the anomaly of both sleep paralysis and AAE remain unexplained.


The search for physical evidence of such an abduction occurring is a seemingly fruitless endeavour. Some experiencers have, on occasion, reported being taken from public places and have been witnessed, but verification of this is very hard to come by. However the possibility of these independent testimonies corroborating the AAE has huge implications if science can establish their validity. Supposed photographs, “alien” materials, hybrid foetuses, medical records of alien implants etc are not only sketchy and unreliable but are rare. There has as been no hard proof of extraterrestrials, visiting Earth or abducting people, perhaps the content of the AAE is the strongest evidence available, but the implications of such proof would be immense as a challenge to the very psyche of every human being. It seems implausible to assume that alien abductions are in fact occurring as we have nothing that directly suggests this. It should be remembered that this small (but growing) community of people, whom we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of their experiences, are subject to some anomaly, whether lien in origin or not. It appears that many of the symptoms of AAE could be explained through sleep paralysis, dissociation from trauma, and possibly physiological elements such as electromagnetism; but looking at AAE as an entirety brings these theories to a crunching halt. For the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, we must perceive this issue as it is – symptoms of trauma which relate specifically to UFO/abduction material. It is difficult to contend that AAE is some coincidence of several, psychological factors (which are not related to one anomalous experience) all being present in people sharing the same experience as one another. It seems that it is the consistency of details which holds the phenomenon of AAE together. It also appears that it is this very same consistency that has broken the whole experience in to parts so that we might try to fit it in to current scientific constraints, and perhaps in doing so we are doing a great injustice to those who are suffering AAE, the human race as an entirety and the progress of science. The search for a parsimonious explanation , must continue but it appears we must be willing to consider new possibilities and perhaps after all, the sky is not the limit.


Appelle, S (1999 ) The Abduction Experience: A Critical Evaluation of theory and Evidence , New York College, Brockport

Blackmore, S (1999) Abduction by Aliens or Sleep Paralysis?, Susan Blackmore website .

Blackmore, S and Rose, N.J (1996) Experiences on the Borderline between Imagination and Reality , 20 th internation conference for the Society for psychical research

Davison, G; Neale, J (2001 ) Abnormal Psychology, 8 th Edition ; John wiley and Sons.

Hopkins, B (1987) Intruders. The Incredible visitations at Copely wood. New York, Random House

Hufford, D.J (1982) The Terror that comes in the Night , Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania Press

Mack, J.E (1992) Alien discussions: Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference , North Cambridge Press

Mack, J.E (1995) Abduction, Human Encounters with Alien s. Revised Edition, Ballentine, New York.

Mack, J.E (1994)

Mishlove, J (1993) The Roots of Consciousness, revised edition , Marlowe and company, New York

Roberts, R; Groome, D; (French,C) (2001) P arapsychology, the science of unusual experience ; (ch8) Arnold, London.

Spanos, N., Cross, P, Dickinson, K, and DuBrueil, S (1993) Close Encounters: An examination of UFO experiences. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 102, 624-632.

© 2004

The Near-Death Experience: All in the Head?

Abstract: The key features and stages involved in the Near-Death Experience (NDE) are discussed and current research is examined in terms of modern psychology and physiology, in an attempt to find a causative explanation. The effectiveness of these current theories puported by the scientific community is evaluated in terms of finding a parsimonious understanding of this common phenomenon.
Introduction : R research in to the NDE has stemmed from a collection of anecdotal accounts where the experience is more than just a strange event; those who have encountered it consider it to be a life changing moment – an epiphany. In the aftermath of the NDE, individuals transform their lifestyles opting for healthy living plans and tend to become spiritual people – not necessarily religious. People believe the NDE to be real event and claim that it is unlike any dream or ordinary experience.
Since the study of NDE has progressed from philosophical speculation to psychology and medical science, it has opened doors to ideas that we may have ways of perceiving events other than via the known physical senses; furthermore the NDE has lead to more speculation that some part of the human personality survives beyond the physical death of the organism. Much of the theoretical work can provide some compelling and plausible hypotheses in explaining aspects of the NDE but there is a lack of evidence of any causation of the phenomenon.
The components of the NDE vary from person to person but a list of common factors has been established and is generally accepted as the criteria for having had an NDE. According to Moody (1975) the NDE can typically include: feeling of having had an ineffable experience; overhearing news of their own death ( person is surprised by this); complacent feelings/bliss/euphoria – no pain despite a pain-filled body; buzzing/humming sounds can be heard; the Tunnel – feeling of being pulled through a void or passage; out- of -body experience (OBE) ie floating sensation and viewing ones own body from above; awareness of meeting other people ie deceased relatives; being engulfed by an increasingly bright light; life evnts/life history is flashed before them in a panormaic viewing style; finally the person makes decision to return to earth and the living. Although many describe their experience to others they do fear ridicule from others
The NDE was further reduced to 5 main stages by Ring ( 1980):
1 – Feelings of bliss/ euphoria
2 – Disconnection from their body (Autoscopy)
3 – Passage of darkness ie tunnel
4 – Experience of Light
5 – Entrance to the “otherside” ( of the Light)
There are no particular demographic factors which affect the rate of the experience. The NDE appears across ages, gender, race, religion and culture, however there are a few minor differences in the specific details such that Christian believers tend to interpret the being of light as Christ and Hindus interpret it as Krishna. Also when making the decision to return, Asian Indians tend to come back due to a beurocratic mistake ie “it wasn't their time”.
The NDEs of children are remarkably similar to adults except that they report dead pets greeting them rather than relatives or religious figures.
Another interesting point come from a study of death-bed visions (Osis and Haraldsson (1977) where people who are terminally ill (and expecting death) tend to have extremely pleasant experiences. and do not experience the panoramic life review. Perhaps there is room for speculation that those terminally ill have come to terms with and accepted death as a welcome release from a dying body, also having had time to reflect on their lives.
Spiritual theory of NDE
There is a strong and prevailant belief among many that the NDE is clear evidence of an Afterlife and that at the moment of death, the spirit/soul leaves the physical body and this taken to be the mechanism of NDEs. Some researchers (Sabom, 1982) have taken the autoscopy element of the NDE to be evidence of this; his researched demonstrated that in some instances, the person viewing themsellves from above were able to report information such as a number written on a high shelf – unseen from the lying position. However, these studies can be criticized as they are inconclusive and few. Even if we are to presume that individuals can “depart” in some sense from their physical bodies and report accurate information from this vantage point, it is not necessarily evidential of a soul/spirit or an afterlife. All that is demonstrated is some unusual ability related directly to human consciousness, perhaps remote viewing or Extra Sensory Perception. Furthermore, it has been noted that there are NDErs who have not been near death at all (merely perceived danger and threat to life) suggesting that death and near death states are not intrinsic to the NDE. This gives rise to a problem for NDE researchers in that there is confusion of the definition of NDE. The culture dependancy is sometimes questioned as most of the research has been done in USA and it has been noted that the phenomenology sometimes varies across cultures, ie “tunnels are found mainly in Buddhist and Christian NDEs and not everyone has the same series of factors. However there does appear to be a core of typical factors, as outlined by Ring (1980) and since it is a deeply personal experience it seems unrealistic to expect a totally uniform account. Overall, the assumption of an afterlife does not in anyway explain what is going on during an NDE or what the cause of the event is.
Psychological theories of NDE
DEPERSONALISATION: During a frightening and potentially dangerous event, humans are known to experience depersonalisation where they will detatch themselves from the unpleasant experience by abandoning their sense of personal identity and replacing the situation with a more pleasant and “dreamlike” scenario. The idea of depersonalisation and hence the NDE, at the point of death (or perceived death) is thought to be the reaction of the mind to the end of the “self” Noyes (1972).
However, although it is true that depersonalisation does occur at some frightening experiences, this does not explain the common phenomenology of the NDE. Also, depersonalisation does not fit with reported experiences, ie. “dreamlike “ states are not associated with NDEs at all and Irwin (1999) points out that the NDE is taken to be a deeply personal event. In fact, NDErs describe it as being “very real” and a state of hyper-alertness is common.
DISSOCIATION: Similarly, it has been proposed that the NDE is an example of dissociation where the individual withdraws from unwanted feelings and experiences such as fear of death so as not to bear the emotional impact. Since dissociation is thought to be a psychological defence mechanism to avoid intrusive and unwanted feelings, it has been proposed that the NDE is an instinctive response to an undesirable situation ie impending death; the NDE will therefore be more common in people who have suffered childhood trauma and hence have more of a tendency to use this mechanism.
There has been some speculation over whether incidences of childhood trauma are more prevailent in NDErs than non-experiencers but results have been inconclusive, Greyson (1999). It should be noted that even if assuming that NDErs have had a tendency to dissociate, there is no reason to think that the NDE is the same kind of experience especially since the NDE is believed by those involved to be very real and are experienced with the ego intact; individuals who suffer recurrent, chronic dissociative disorders do not match the typical conditions of NDErs, Atwater (2000).
REMEMBERING THE BIRTH EXPERIENCE : Proponents of this theory (Sagan 1979) argue that the NDE can be explained in terms of remembering our own birth experiences; the “tunnel” is reminiscent of the birth canal and the “light” is merely the light of the world into which we are born. It is further suggested that a reported experience of meeting beings of light etc are representations of the surgical staff and loving parents.
This theory has been heavily criticised on a number of points; birth is a stressfull series of pushes and the infant is compacted and squeezed during the event where as NDErs report peacefully floating or being pulled along more spacious, vacuous tunnel. Also, new-borns come in to the world with eyes closed and not facing forward and without the capacity to store this experience as the brain has yet to form fully, Becker (1982). In a study of NDErs who reported the “tunnel” element of their experience, it was found that there was no statistically significant difference in accounts of those born vaginally compared to those born via caesarean section, Blackmore (1983). Thus, there is very little other than speculation to support this theory of the NDE phenomenon.
HALLUCINATIONS: Another commonly proposed theory of NDE causation is that of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, or medicinally used morphine. Also, naturally occurring endorphins are thought to explain the euphoric feelings and “beings of light” etc. However, there is little support for these claims as a important factor in the NDE explanation. Although some aspects of the NDE may be experienced while a person is under the influence of a drug, the hallucinations that result tend not to be of the same nature as the NDE. Drug induced hallucinations tend to be reported as fuzzy and confusing experiences – unlike the vivid and realistic accounts of NDE, furthermore drug users do not maintain a belief that what they experienced (even if similar to NDE factors) was real where as NDErs do. Greyson (2000) points out that many of the NDErs were not under the influence of drugs at all and still report the typical NDE. Also it has been proposed in a study of death-bed visions (Osis and Haraldsson,1977) that drugs or metabolically induced states of delerium may act as an inhibitor of the NDE. With regards to natural endorphins that are thought to rush through the dying body to reduce pain and shock, there is nothing in research so far to suggest that any more endorphins are produced at death than at any other stressful event, Atwater (2000). However, the occasions where the death is only perceived and there is no real threat to the individual who claims and NDE, could be taken to be such a stressful situation.
Although it appears that the role of drugs is sketchy in the NDE, there has been vast research in to one particular drug which has been a tremendous challenge to proponents of the NDE as more than a physical experience; the drug is ketamine. Ketamine is a psychoactive drug -mainly used as an anaesthetic- has been known to cause short –term hallucinogenic side effects which result in experiences remarkably similar to the NDE: the “tunnel”, the “light” and some kind of communion with God is often reported by patients under its inflence. Furthermore, ketamine acts as an inhibitor of a certain neuro-transmitter involved in memory which results in sensations of the outside environment to be blocked out and thus only past memories are available to consiousness, this thought to be the reason why individuals using ketamine report a “life review”. As with NDErs, those who experienced the ketamine effects, maintained that they had experienced something real ie “the tunnel that took them to the light where they met God” was a real experience ( not attributed to ketamine) and not merely a real hallucination, Jansen (1997) . There is a significant statistical difference though in that 30% of ketamine induced experiencers maintain it was all real, almost 100% of NDErs maintain the realness of their account.
As intriguing as the ketamine studies are in explaining the NDE, it runs in to further problems when we consider that many of the NDErs have their experience without being under the influence of ketamine or any other drug. Perhaps there is room to speculate that in these cases the body could be producing its own natural ketamine–like chemical, that has yet to be recorded? While ketamine can produce startling effects of NDE like reports, those involved do not show the profound after effects (ie life changes including beliefs and habits) that non- ketamine NDErs show; also Strassman (1997) points out that ketamine induced experiences tend to be more fearfull than pleasant and Fenwick (1997) notes that ketamine gives rise to an unreal quality of experience in many. The effects ok ketamine are a result of temporary changes in cerebral function and it is interesting to note that during the NDE, the brain is altered functionally, structurally and chemically, Atwater (2000).
DREAMS: The proposal that NDEs are dreams is highly speculative and has many flaws in that that dreams tend to be incohesive, surreal and are rarely remembered vividly – entirely different from the NDE which is recalled as being coherent, meaningful and a real experience. The correlates of the NDE also put doubt on the dream idea since the NDE appears consistently at a specific time ie death or percieved death and not at random with the consistent elements seemingly cross cultural. The images in dreams tend to be of a more random nature.
OXYGEN DEPRIVATION: It has been considered that hypoxia – a lack of oxygen to the brain- can induce temporal lobe seizures which can result in NDE like experiences, Sabom and Kreutziger (1982). The effects that have been reported are the panoramic “life review” but the memories do not share the same structure of those in the NDE – they appear to be random. Other sensations experienced in seizures are qualitatively different from an NDE and include auditory rather than visual imagery, Irwin, (1999).
Eddell (1999) and many others purport that the NDE is nothing more than a result of severe oxygen deprivation, Anoxia. When the brain is severely deprived of oxygen, the experience of the “tunnel” is engendered. This is due to the disinhibition of cells which cause more firing of cells in the visual cortex which can give rise to tunnel vision and bright lights that seem to expand infinitely. In addition to these visual aspects, anoxic patients often report feeling a sense of floating and euphoria. Since anoxia is one of the most common features of a dying body (Rodin, 1980), there could be a high chance that dying, anoxic patients will report these NDE like effects. The proposition of anoxia as the key role in NDE is interesting as studies from different research lend support for this. Whinnery, (1990, 1997) examined the experiences of pilots who endured high speed acceleration when training particular manoeuvers. He found that not only was there a loss of consciousness due to anoxia when their blood flow to the brain suddenly reduced, but they reported feelings of euphoria, “tunnels”, bright lights, floating and even out-of –body experiences, they even reported “dreamlike” experiences of beautiful gardens and meeting relatives there. It should be noted however that the “relatives” encountered were still living and that there was a dreamlike quality to this experience; unlike the vivid alertness reported by NDErs.
In 1982, Sabom produced research which suggested that anoxia was not a key feature in the occurrence of NDE. Sabom monitored the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood of individuals during NDEs and found no difference between anoxic and non-anoxic individuals. Sabom's findings have been criticised however on methodological grounds as he measured the blood levels via easily accessible arteries that are not necessarily accurate in measuring blood in particular brain regions, Roberts (2001). Overall, anoxia can not be ruled out as having some role in the NDE but it can be rule out as a necessary causative factor as many of the reported NDEs occurred in people who were not suffering oxygen deprivation at all ie in perceived death that was not a genuine threat.
The Dying Brain Hypothesis of NDE
More recently, researchers have been proposing that the NDE is a side effect of dying; that as certain events happen during the death process, and the brain shuts down, it is highly likely that the person will have sensory experiences that account for the NDE. The Dying Brain Theory (DBT) was initially proposed by Dr Susan Blackmore (1993) and has been thoroughly discussed and hotly debated ever since.
The NDE is accordingly explained via physiological and psychological events: anoxia; endorphin release; neurotransmitter activity and finally the breakdown of personal identity. Blackmore attributes the feelings of bliss and floating to endorphine release; the actions of certain neuro-transmitters affecting memory recall ie “life review" and the imagery of “tunnels”, “light” and humming or buzzing sounds are down to oxygen deprivation. The DBT proposes a combination of the theoretical effects of the natural dying process; but where Blackmore innovates her theory is in the explanation of the tunnel portion of the NDE and the out-of-body or autoscopy experience.
The DBT suggests that the inhibitory cells in the visual cortex are extremely sensitive to oxygen depletion and so during hypoxia/anoxia these cells fail to act resulting in more neurological firing. The structural arrangement of the cells in the retina is important as the light receptors are in opulence in the centre of the retina in contrast to the periphery, hence one would expect that the increasing neural activity would result in the experience of an unusually bright light that grows and expands. It is further proposed that since the eyes are not actually seeing anything, then there would be no discomfort from this light.
“Dissolution of the self” is then put forward as the final mechanism by which the OBE or viewing of oneself from above and the “timeless” quality is experienced. Blackmore argues that since the reconstruction is from memory of what was experienced, and the sense of reality was distorted during the NDE, she suggests that it is not surprising that NDErs recount an OBE. She likens the construction to how we perceive ourselves in everyday memory recall- from a 3 rd person narrative which can be often experienced in dreams when we see ourselves from above. Furthermore, previous research suggests that people who dream in the 3 rd person and recall their dreams from a birds-eye view have a tendency to experience more OBEs than others who do not (Irwin, 1986; Blackmore,1987).
Blackmore's theory is compelling and can account for a great deal of the NDE, but only where it is known that oxygen deprivation was suffered. As Dr Kenneth Ring (1995) points out; The Dying Brain Theory associates the state of the physical brain at the onset of a potential NDE and can provide access to such an event but this does not necessarily give an explanation of the actual experience in every or maybe all cases.
Most of the research discussed only examines specific elements of NDE and not the entire experience; assuming that the whole is grater than sum of its parts, researching this phenomenon has led to many problems for researchers in establishing a satisfactorily parsimonious, explanation. Not all theories are equally plausible , although some (such as the Dying Brain Theory) do provide interesting new ways of discussing the phenomenology and implications of the process of physical death. Furthermore, the discussion and debate over the NDE provides raw material for new insights in to our own mortality and capacity for life. Perhaps more stringent methods are required in analysing “circumstantial evidence” . Such information is purported to take a more supernatural form where, NDErs reporting information that they could not have known through the known senses afterwards; ie Some individuals claim they saw the doctors operate whilst they were clinically dead and others believe that they have brought back ideas for technology and medicine via some divine instruction. Incidentally some advances in a orm of light therapy were patented following a doctors own NDE.
There is also a need for a more definite standardisation of terms such as death, death state, near-death state etc, but this ambiguity does not make the experience of those changed dramatically by the NDE phenomenon any less important or real. The after effects of the NDE are definitely real and even measurable by others and is a world wide issue that has pevailed over time. Professional researchers must bear a responsibility to mankind to further understand and accept the NDE as a valid human experience; research into discovering the cause and effect of the NDE s provides an opportunity to better understand how the brain operates as a physical organ and to expand the current thinking of our own consciousness and its potential capacities that have perhaps lay underused and misunderstood by science for millennia.
Until we expand our awareness and understanding of other, potentially related phenomenon, the answer to this age old mystery will remain as elusive as the experience itself.
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Blackmore, S (1998) : Experiences of Anoxia: Do Reflex Seizures resemble NDEs? Journal of Near-Death Studies, 17, 111-120
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Near-Death Experiences:
Near-death information ( International Association for Near-Death Studies)
Near-Death information

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