The Reason People Believe in UFO

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You wake up in the middle of the night and you’re terrified. You roll over and look at the clock. It’s 3:32am. You have no idea what just happened or why you’re so terrified, but you have an uneasy feeling that something bad just happened. Eventually you fall back asleep and think nothing of it the next day. Some time passes though and you’re starting to have weird flashbacks: bright lights, gray creatures, big beady eyes, long fingers, more lights, a cold table that you’re laying on, sharp objects. You think to yourself; did I actually meet an alien? Were they doing some kind of experiment on me? Not possible. Or is it? Millions of people around the world have had similar experiences. The idea of alien abductions has been around for over half a century, with the first widely publicized report going back to 1961 with Betty and Barney Hill. Before that, nobody has ever reported being abducted. 1961 was also around the time Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. There was tons of excitement in the media along with TV shows and movies showing big headed aliens stealing people away from their sleep. People that think they were abducted are not crazy or delusional, but studies show that what really might have happened was just a dark lucid dream.

On a September night in 1961, Betty and Barney Hill drove down a New Hampshire country road where they claim they've been abducted by a UFO. They reported that they somehow lost 2 hours of time and had no idea what happened. Their watches stopped working, Betty's dress was ripped and they both felt dirty. Their experience 'would kick off an Air Force inquiry, part of the secretive initiative Project Blue Book that investigated UFO sightings across the country. The incident would also become the first-ever widely publicized alien-abduction account and shape how stories like it were told—and understood—from then on.” (Lacina) After some time, they both met with Benjamin Simon where they did hypnosis and their 'memories' were recollected. They said that aliens with large eyes had taken them into a metallic disc where they experimented on them and later erased their memories. To this day, no one knows if it really happened or if they were just liars, fantasists or just a really sleep-deprived couple who dreamt the whole thing. Studies show that when you're sleep-deprived or have a shifting sleep schedule, it can cause sleep paralysis.

Although Betty and Barney Hill’s story was heard around the world, studies show that it most likely never happened. First, hypnosis is said to be unreliable. In the article, 'not Just Another False Memory', by Leonard Newman and Roy Baumeister, they claim that hypnosis '(a) encourages fantasy and imagination, (b) is often conducted in a context of assumed accuracy of exhumed memories, which invites participants to adopt a lax standard for distinguishing fantasy and reality, and (c) encourages participants to report more information independent of recall accuracy' (187).

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In order to understand how someone can confuse an alien abduction with a lucid dream, it’s important to understand how sleep paralysis actually works. Every night when we sleep, our bodies enter a bodily state of REM atonia, this is where the muscles don't respond to the firing of the motor neurons in our brain. This is important so that we're not acting out our dreams in the middle of the night. The only part of the body that doesn't go into REM atonia are the eyes, the chest so we can breathe normally and some other random things like lips or fingertips. Sometimes in the middle of the night when you wake up, your brain will wake up, but your body won't, there's a disconnection. If you don't know what's going on, it can be terrifying, but it's not dangerous. I, personally, have had it happen to me quite a few times and I have to say, it was probably the most horrifying thing to ever happen to me. I was seeing demons in my room, but I couldn't move or scream. Some people experience sleep paralysis every night and some people might never experience it in their life. It usually happens when you're under a lot of stress, have narcolepsy or are sleep deprived (among other things). It lasts anywhere from a couple seconds to a few minutes. The idea of waking up and not being able to move your arms or legs, like something is holding you down can be extremely mentally disturbing. The reason why I was seeing demons in my bedroom was because when you're in sleep paralysis, it's also the place where hallucinations and dreams are. So, waking up practically paralyzed, your mind might try to make sense of the situation by having scary hallucinations or nightmares to explain what's happening. These hallucinations, like dreams, can be outlandish things like alien abductions, demons or whatever else your unconscious beliefs about reality are.

So how do we know if someone who says they've been abducted is telling the truth? In 1992, Ted Davis, Don Donderi and Budd Hopkins did a study where they took 52 self-reported abductees, 75 non-abductees and 26 people that were told to respond as if they've been abducted and asked them a series of questions. They concluded that there's a state of mind called the UFO Abduction Syndrome. They concluded: 'Based on the results from our own abductees and data from the other researchers whose findings were summarized earlier, we hypothesize that some abductees report abductions because they confuse fantasies based on popular culture with memories based on real events, either as a defense against remembering childhood abuse or because they are inclined to fantasize as a matter of personality style' (Davis 40). The UFO Abduction Syndrome is considered a real problem that deserves clinical attention, according to many researchers. They also note: 'The UFO abduction syndrome has been evaluated as real by Hopkins (1996, 1987, 1981) and Jacobs (2000, 1992, 1998), among others. It has also been explained as the reinstatement of birth trauma (Lawson, 1988), as sadomasochistic fantasy (Newman & Baumeister 1996), and as fantasy proneness leading to a failure to distinguish between imagination and reality (Clancy, 2005). It has also been a theme of film and TV fiction (The X-Files, Taken)' (Davis 26). There are many studies that prove that people who claim to be abducted have some sort of mental issue. There's no way to prove otherwise, because there has never been a single verified abduction.

People that believe they've been abducted won't listen to anyone telling them that they were just having illusions or fantasies. They will hold their ground no matter what. Susan Clancy, a Harvard psychologist interviewed many of these people. She wrote a book called 'Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens'. She writes, 'Understanding why people believe weird things is important for anyone who wishes to know more about people -- that is, humans in general.' She believes that the people that claimed to be abducted were people that were already interested in the paranormal. These people go to therapists to get an explanation of what's happening with them and they use hypnotism to get more details. Clancy believes that when someone undergoes hypnosis and the hypnotist has them imagine a scenario, they're more likely to think that it really happened afterwards. She even commented on Betty and Barney Hill, the first publicized alien abduction, and said that what they were describing the aliens as looking like was exactly how Steven Spielberg's 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' aliens looked like. That movie came out right before Betty and Barney claimed they were abducted, which further proves that they were influenced by the media.

People that believe they were abducted can't really remember what happened to them, they just think they've been abducted because of what they've heard about on TV or what other people have claimed happened to them. It's always the same story, that aliens came down, took them from their bed or car, performed experiments and then erased their memories. The question is, if none of that ever happened, why are people so adamant that it did, even without proof? Could it be because they've been overwhelmed or stressed out and it would be the perfect explanation? Psychologists believe that it gives their life meaning. For example, when Susan Clancy asked her subjects if they wish it never happened to them or if they'd have it happen again, as terrifying as it was, not one person said that they wished it didn't happen to them. Clancy writes, 'The abductees taught me that people go through life trying on belief systems for size. Some of these belief systems speak to powerful emotional needs that have little to do with science—the need to feel less alone in the world, the desire to have special powers or abilities, the longing to know that there is something out there, something more important than you that’s watching over you. Belief in alien abduction is not just bad science. It’s not just an explanation for misfortune and a way to avoid taking responsibility for personal problems. For many people, belief in alien abductions gratifies spiritual hungers. It reassures them about their place in the universe and their own significance.' Apparently, many people believe that there's aliens out there that do grotesque things to our bodies, but deep inside have our best interests at heart.

During my research, I encountered Ryan Michael, who labels himself as a 'UFO expert' that has researched UFO's/aliens for about 20 years. I decided to interview him and find out why he believes so strongly that aliens exist. Towards the end of my interview, I realized that believing in aliens is a kind of religion to him and to many others as well. At first, I asked him why we don't hear about alien abductions on the news, and his response was: 'Because people see it as fringe science, or dismiss it as crazy because people are fearful of what it would mean to things like, primarily, religious beliefs, things like that', and then when I asked him why he's been researching UFO's for so long, he said: 'Because the same way some people feel a connection to God or religious figures, I felt that same connection to ebes and ufos.' This just goes to show that although there’s no physical proof of UFO abductions, there are people that believe them so whole heartedly because it makes them believe they’re a part of something bigger. 

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