About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
UFO abductions like religious experiences?
Indeed, that suggestion has been made several times in the skeptical literature, but it is now becoming part of mainstream science (even though of a "soft" science such as psychology), thanks to the work of Dr. Clancy. Clancy and her group did not set out explicitly to compare abductions and religion, and in fact they neglected -- unfortunately -- to ask their subjects about their religious beliefs. But by the end of their research, the parallels were simply too strong to ignore, something that hopefully will prompt a follow-up study addressing the abduction-religion connection more directly.
Among the interesting findings of Clancy's group are the fact that abductees are more prone to recall false memories (demonstrated under laboratory conditions), that they are more likely to be interested in the paranormal and UFOs to begin with, and -- most tellingly -- that they have a tendency to interpret their experiences in quasi-religious terms. For example, one of the subjects interviewed by Clancy said: "You know, they do walk among us on earth. They have to transform first into a physical body, which is very painful for them. But they do it out of love. They are here to tell us that we're all interconnected in some way. Everything is." That ain't that different from people who claim they have heard directly from God.
Benedict Carey, the NYT reporter, begins the article suggesting that abductees are neither daft nor psychotic, and that Clancy's work implies that their experiences "should be taken as seriously as any strongly held exotic beliefs." Right, except that the same study clearly hints at the fact that such "experiences" are entirely in the minds of the people who have them, not likely to be a reflection of things really out there.
Clearly, we ought to take the delusions of some people (religious fanatics like Bin Laden and George Bush come to mind) very seriously, because they have consequences for all of us (9/11 and the Iraq war, in case you were wondering). But that's most certainly not the way in which these people wish "to be taken seriously." No, they really want us to believe that what they are experiencing is as real as the pasta and fagioli I had last night for dinner. Or did I?