After the recent revelation that the Pentagon had funneled some $22 million dollars into investigating UFO reports made by military personnel since 2007, I decided to revisit some of my old work. See, despite regularly writing articles aimed at debunking conspiracy theories and reports of flying saucers, I don’t take such an aggressive approach to these investigations because I don’t want to believe them. In fact, I’m so eager to find an explanation because I’m hoping I won’t. One of these days, something incredible may come across my desk, and I’ll be left with no choice but to acknowledge a new and exciting truth about the nature of our existence. What could be better than that?
Unbeknownst to many, I’ve actually cultivated a pretty decent “paranormal investigator” resume over the years for just that reason. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling, and when you find yourself in a new region or country on a regular basis, you start to get tired of visiting the same old tourist traps. So, more than a decade ago, my wife and I began looking for more unusual sights to see… haunted castles, areas Bigfoot has been sighted, and of course, places I hoped to spot a UFO hovering overhead.
My wife is a believer. I’m… skeptical, but I’m willing to be convinced. Over the years, we’ve accumulated a fair amount of what she calls proof, and what I call, “huh, that is sorta weird…” but I’ve yet to be genuinely sold on much. Sometimes we had to go looking for things, sometimes the opportunities presented themselves.
Somewhere in the middle of the slew of surgeries I underwent before being retired from the Marine Corps, my wife and I decided to take a vacation I might be able to enjoy despite having fresh screws inserted into three of the four joints below my waist, so we bought tickets for a cruise to the Caribbean that left out of New York City.
During days “at sea” on a cruise ship, the crew offers all sorts of entertainment to keep you occupied in what is effectively a floating mall you’re not able to leave. Amidst the barrage of trivia contests, art galleries, and of course, evening entertainment, one of those entertainers was a hypnotist.
That’s when the bells in my head began to ring. Over years of reading about UFO sightings, alien abductions, and the like, hypnotism was a recurring and consistent theme. Often, the details of an alleged abduction are “revealed” through hypnosis, which I’d always attributed to either a) being led by the hypnotist while in a trance-like state, or b) being nothing more than good old-fashioned bullshit. I had, however, never seen it done in person.
Betty and Barney Hill are perhaps the most notable “abductees” to reveal their stories through the hypnosis method. As an inter-racial couple in 1961, the Hills had little reason to try to draw attention to themselves, but their account of a supposed encounter with extra-terrestrials is actually one of the first times anyone ever described aliens in the fashion we’re so familiar with today: small, grey figures with large, cat-like eyes. You can hear their accounts of the event here.
Keen to see what an entertainer-hypnotist was capable of, my wife and I arrived to the show early to make sure we had good seats, which worked in my favor when the hypnotist asked for volunteers. Just a few minutes into the show, 10 of us raised our hands and we were welcomed onto the stage, where we were asked to sit in chairs, close our eyes, and focus on what the hypnotist was saying.
This is where my recollection starts to get strange. Although I didn’t really believe in hypnotism, I wanted to make sure I was approaching the opportunity with an open mind. I told myself to be a good sport about this, and as far as I recall, I was. With my eyes closed throughout, I and a number of others listened to directions provided by the hypnotist, and, keen on being a good sport, I obliged. I was on vacation, after all, and this was all in good fun. Besides, he wasn’t asking me to do anything I was uncomfortable with.
When the show was over, however… my perspective shifted a bit. When he told us to open our eyes, I did so… only to find that only four of us were still on stage. I had taken my shirt off at his direction to do so, but only upon seeing it in a pile on the wood stage between me and the audience did I suddenly grow embarrassed, and quickly scoop it up to back on.
I was in total control of my actions throughout the show, and cognitively, I recall simply being comfortable with doing what I was asked and making the conscious decision to go on. I wasn’t a zombie, I didn’t feel like I was in a trance, but I did just sort of… feel good. With my eyes open again, however, I suddenly felt like maybe I’d been a fool.
Apparently, as the hypnotist began the show and took us through a series of simple tasks, he had removed the participants that weren’t responding to his suggestions to find those of us who were susceptible to his “hypnotic spell.” In further research, I’d find that, among those who have studied hypnotism seriously (to include the CIA at length), this is a real step – some people are simply more prone to falling under hypnotic suggestion than others.
I also came to find that feeling as though you were choosing to play along is a common facet among accounts of those who are considered “borderline.” This means people like me are potentially susceptible to hypnotic suggestion, but not reliably enough to make me any sort of porn star or Manchurian candidate.
In fact, in Barney Hill’s account of his own hypnosis that “unlocked” the suppressed memories of his supposed abduction, he claimed that he believed he couldn’t be hypnotized, but found himself responding to the treatment because he was just being a “good sport.”
This leaves me in uncomfortable territory. For the next week, I was recognized by other cruise-goers as “the guy from the hypnotist show.” In the buffet line, in the elevator, at the pool I got asked, “so was it real?”
And I have to respond, “I… don’t actually know?”
According to a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers, hypnosis is a real psychological phenomenon, but the limits of what it’s capable of remain blurry. Don’t just take my word for it – here’s what Penn State psychology professor William Ray has to say about it:
In the 1950s, reliable measures of hypnotizability were developed, which allowed this research field to gain validity. We’ve seen more than 12,000 articles on hypnosis published since then in medical and psychological journals. Today, there’s general agreement that hypnosis can be an important part of treatment for some conditions, including phobias, addictions and chronic pain.”
For the most part, it seems, hypnosis can’t be used to force someone to do something egregious or turn an otherwise patriotic American into a sleeper agent, but there is some evidence to suggest that it can lead to false memories. If a person is highly susceptible to hypnosis and is asked leading questions while in a “trance state,” their brain could feasibly produce dream-like content it misrepresents as memories. In some cases, the patient could even be led to believe they remember something happening to them… even if it didn’t. Of course, in other cases, the patient may be recounting actual events that their brain suppressed.
So what is there to make of accounts of alien abductions that are revealed through hypnosis? It would seem it’s best to approach these on a case by case basis. Much like a lie-detector test, the skill (and intent) of the professionals managing the session can have a significant effect on the outcome – and whether the result is in the negative or affirmative, there’s a reason lie detector tests are considered inadmissible in court in most states. The result you get could be real… but it could also be nonsense.
As for me; I won’t be volunteering for another hypnotism show any time soon. Just to be safe.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps