Saturday, February 4, 2017

Mount TBR #4

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2017. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens – Susan A. Clancy

When mass delusions overcome the population – see November, 2016 – I run to the solace of cognitive psychology in order to think about why otherwise smart, kind, harmless people act in ways against their own interest, much less everybody else’s. So in the alien abduction context, given the derision they will face and the possible risks to their reputation and perhaps even employability, why would people claim that they were kidnapped by aliens?

In this slender summary of her research written for a lay but intelligent audience Dr. Clancy gives plausible reasons. She says that people don’t examine weird bruises after a night of troubled sleep the next morning and suddenly conclude that they were kidnapped by little grey men. It sometimes happens that the experience comes out of a dream or the terror that results from sleep paralysis. At other times, people who already kind of believe aliens exist and kidnap earthers for experiments are applying the scientific method: they explain their weird bruises, troubled sleep, and vague unease with the theory they were kidnapped by aliens. This fits the facts for them. Clancy also lucidly discusses the malleability of memory and how hypnosis and other “memory recovery” techniques can, and often do, create false memories that feel very real for the abductee.

She also discusses the kind of person who gets abducted. They are not attention hounds, nor are they bonkers. They are normal people, whose only oddness is their belief about being kidnapped by aliens. Tests indicate, however, that they are more imaginative and fantasy prone than the general population. They are also more creative (if indeed you believe that creativity can be reliably measured by surveys). They also score high on a trait called “schizotypy” which simply means that they are prone to odd beliefs and eccentric ways of thinking like magical thinking.

Oddly enough, in the last chapter she talks about how abductees were glad to have had their experience. They say it made them feel part of bigger universe and feel it gave their lives meaning. She makes the point that when scientific explanations are pitted against people’s notions of what feels right a.k.a their intuition or gut feeling, science loses. 

This is well-written book with personal asides, some dry humor, and comprehensible arguments. I recommend this to readers with an interest in skepticism, clear thinking, reason and logic, and expertise (i.e., into things so much out of fashion these days).

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