Anybody Out There?

In the spirit of free speech, I applaud OAM for running "Messengers from the Unseen" by John Mack '51 (Fall 2002). If aliens are abducting people, this is the most significant event in human history, and it has enormous (and ominous) ramifications for the human future. This is not the type of story that the alumni magazine should censor.

However, Dr. Mack's views on alien abductions are shared by only a miniscule fraction of the scientific community. As Carl Sagan wrote: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." The mainstream scientific community is quite correct in taking an extremely skeptical viewpoint toward the claim that humans are being abducted by aliens. And it is not because the community is close-minded, as Dr. Mack indirectly implies.

I have spent the last 10 years writing about astronomy and other sciences in magazines such as Discover, Astronomy, and now Mercury. I can report that scientists are probably the most open-minded people in society. Experiments and observations have forced them to accept bizarre phenomena that would otherwise be inconceivable to the human mind, such as black holes, warped space-time, and virtual particles that spontaneously pop into and then out of existence. But scientists are also well aware that they don't want their minds to be so open that their brains fall out.

Science is not so much a set of facts but a process that leads humans to an increasingly deeper understanding of the natural world. Science depends on physical evidence and repeatable experiments to eliminate false ideas. But Dr. Mack cites no physical evidence to support his claims that aliens are abducting human beings. For example, he mentions that some people have received implants under their skin during abductions. An MRI scan could easily locate such an implant, and then a skilled surgeon could remove it. Just one example of an alien implant found inside a human body would immediately change scientific opinion from nearly universal skepticism to nearly universal acceptance.

Instead, Dr. Mack offers as evidence testimony of people in altered states of consciousness. Here we must rely more upon experience, intuition, non-ordinary states of consciousness, and holistic knowing, thoughtfully and rigorously applied, he writes. It's hard for me to conceive of a less reliable path to truth and knowledge than Dr. Mack's methodology. As many Oberlinians would know (myself included!), being in an altered state of consciousness makes one more fantasy prone and much less able to distinguish truth and reality from utter nonsense.

I'm deeply troubled that only a handful of psychiatrists, such as Dr. Mack and Budd Hopkins (another Oberlin graduate), have ever reported alien abductions. My good friend William Sheehan, a clinical psychiatrist and author of a dozen books about astronomy, has examined thousands of patients, but none have ever told stories of being abducted by aliens. The fact that so few researchers report alien abductions strongly suggests that the way Dr. Mack and Budd Hopkins interrogate their patients leads people into believing they were abducted. The possibility that false memories of terrifying abduction experiences are being implanted into people's minds raises serious ethical issues.

In summary, while I applaud OAM for publishing Dr. Mack's article, readers should adopt an attitude of extreme skepticism toward his extraordinary claims until he supports them with substantive evidence. Moreover, humanity doesn't need extraterrestrial beings subjecting people to abduction experiences to inform us that we are doing great harm to planet Earth. Most Oberlinians, non-abductees included, are well aware of that fact by the end of the first semester of their freshman year.

Robert Naeye '85
Editor, Mercury magazine
San Francisco, California

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