Antidote to ‘The Fourth Kind’

December 15, 2009

The aliens are coming—again. In 1977 Steven Spielberg gave us Close Encounters of the Third Kind . And now The Fourth Kind rachets extraterrestrial paranoia up a notch. (The movie gets an unexpected boost from simultaneously appearing newspaper headlines proclaiming “Vatican considers possibility of alien life in the universe [ Buffalo News , Nov. 11, 2009].)

Informed skeptics will know that the close-encounters scale was devised in 1972 by UFOlogist J. Allen Hynek. UFO sightings represent the first kind; up-close UFO observation and trace evidence comprise the second; and sightings or interactions with extraterrestrials characterize the third kind. Later, investigators added a fourth kind, involving alleged alien abductions. (See my Entities , 1995, 205–220 .)

The Fourth Kind is set in today’s Nome, Alaska, where for decades an alarming number of persons have supposedly gone missing. The psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler has sessions with hypnotically regressed patients who begin to “recall” traumatic encounters with extraterrestrials. By interspersing “fictional” recreations with snippets of “real” footage, and using other deceptive tactics and techniques to impart verisimilitude, filmmaker Olatunde Osunsanmi imitates the aliens by trying to rob moviegoers of their wits.

I predict a partial success. Some may emerge from theaters with intensified belief in such alien shenanigans. But here follows an antidote to credulity.

First, there is no credible scientific evidence that aliens have ever visited the planet earth—let alone that they have abducted earthlings. Apart from a few probable hoaxes (such as the case of Travis Walton, which served as the basis for the 1993 movie Fire in Sky ), most alleged alien abductions originate from altered states of consciousness—especially “waking dreams” (which occur between being fully asleep and fully awake and may be characterized by hallucinations and “sleep paralysis”) and hypnosis (which I describe as the yellow brick road to fantasyland). The best abductee cases (as in John Mack’s 1994 Abduction ) involve persons who have fantasy-prone personalities. They tend to be easily hypnotized, to have vivid dreams, and to possess a proclivity to perceive their imaginings as real. (See also my Adventures in Paranormal Investigation , 2007, 251–258.)

When I once appeared with Whitley Streiber and other abduction gurus on John Hockenberry’s TV talk show, the journalist concluded the segment by asking if I had any advice about aliens. I quipped, “Just keep being skeptical; they aren’t abducting skeptics.”