Anybody Out There?
In the spirit of free speech, I applaud OAM
for running "Messengers from the Unseen" by John Mack
'51 (Fall 2002). If aliens are abducting people, this is the most
significant event in human history, and it has enormous (and ominous)
ramifications for the human future. This is not the type of story
that the alumni magazine should censor.
However, Dr. Mack's views on alien abductions
are shared by only a miniscule fraction of the scientific community.
As Carl Sagan wrote: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary
evidence." The mainstream scientific community is quite
correct in taking an extremely skeptical viewpoint toward the
claim that humans are being abducted by aliens. And it is not
because the community is close-minded, as Dr. Mack indirectly
I have spent the last 10 years writing about astronomy
and other sciences in magazines such as Discover, Astronomy,
and now Mercury. I can report that scientists are probably
the most open-minded people in society. Experiments and observations
have forced them to accept bizarre phenomena that would otherwise
be inconceivable to the human mind, such as black holes, warped
space-time, and virtual particles that spontaneously pop into and
then out of existence. But scientists are also well aware that they
don't want their minds to be so open that their brains fall out.
Science is not so much a set of facts but a process
that leads humans to an increasingly deeper understanding of
the natural world. Science depends on physical evidence and
repeatable experiments to eliminate false ideas. But Dr. Mack
cites no physical evidence to support his claims that aliens
are abducting human beings. For example, he mentions that some
people have received implants under their skin during abductions.
An MRI scan could easily locate such an implant, and then a
skilled surgeon could remove it. Just one example of an alien
implant found inside a human body would immediately change scientific
opinion from nearly universal skepticism to nearly universal
Instead, Dr. Mack offers as evidence testimony
of people in altered states of consciousness. Here we must rely
more upon experience, intuition, non-ordinary states of consciousness,
and holistic knowing, thoughtfully and rigorously applied, he
writes. It's hard for me to conceive of a less reliable path
to truth and knowledge than Dr. Mack's methodology. As many
Oberlinians would know (myself included!), being in an altered
state of consciousness makes one more fantasy prone and much
less able to distinguish truth and reality from utter nonsense.
I'm deeply troubled that only a handful of psychiatrists,
such as Dr. Mack and Budd Hopkins (another Oberlin graduate),
have ever reported alien abductions. My good friend William
Sheehan, a clinical psychiatrist and author of a dozen books
about astronomy, has examined thousands of patients, but none
have ever told stories of being abducted by aliens. The fact
that so few researchers report alien abductions strongly suggests
that the way Dr. Mack and Budd Hopkins interrogate their patients
leads people into believing they were abducted. The possibility
that false memories of terrifying abduction experiences are
being implanted into people's minds raises serious ethical issues.
In summary, while I applaud OAM for publishing
Dr. Mack's article, readers should adopt an attitude of extreme
skepticism toward his extraordinary claims until he supports them
with substantive evidence. Moreover, humanity doesn't need extraterrestrial
beings subjecting people to abduction experiences to inform us that
we are doing great harm to planet Earth. Most Oberlinians, non-abductees
included, are well aware of that fact by the end of the first semester
of their freshman year.
Robert Naeye '85
Editor, Mercury magazine
San Francisco, California