Thursday, January 3, 2013

Defense of the Linda Cortile case

Many months after losing interest in the controversy of UFO abductions and the research thereof, I stumbled upon a site by Sean Meers and a self-published defense of the case.  I've started reading the defense.  It seems to be thoroughly documented and very impassioned.  Meers points out several apparent errors by Paratopia in attacking the late Bud Hopkins and seeks to discredit the criticisms of Carol Rainey. Having gained some distance from the whole "abduction" controversy, my opinions have settled down to a few remaining impressions... largely informed by some life experiences.

I think that the fundamental reason that sciences refuses to touch the abduction phenomenon is because the experiences bear more-than-a-casual resemblance to mental illness and other brain anomalies, including the oft-cited "temporal lobe epilepsy." Unfortunately, science cannot publicly say this, for a number of important reasons. A diagnosis of mental illness is not easily nor lightly made, so (in defense of science), the scientist has no choice but to stay as far away from the subject as possible.... which leaves the abduction research mostly to investigators not trained in psychology.

Now, does this mean that abductions are signs of mental illness? No. But look at it from this perspective. If I saw a strange object in the sky and did not know what it was, I'd call it an unidentified flying object, implying, in the popular imagination, that it was an alien craft. However, a trained pilot might come along and say, "Oh, that's not a UFO. I know exactly what that is. It's a C-43-whatever." When we see objects in the sky, we consult with professional aviators to rule out pedestrian explanations (and trust that the pilots aren't covert CIA disinfo agents). Unfortunately, it's quite taboo for an investigator to consult with a psychiatrist when documenting perceptions of events that fall outside the range of normal. The experiencer might be recalling a "real" abduction--or he might be experiencing psychosis. We just don't know.

This problem is compounded by the fact that many paranormalists who report very bizarre experiences also show an obsession with a number of ill-informed conspiracies. Their beliefs are often indistinguishable from the truly delusional. So, science isn't going to go there.

Unfortunately, because science can't (or won't) touch these cases, we cannot know their true nature. We simply don't know what's causing them. And I argue that we, as lay people, should tread lightly on these cases and not rush to argue that they are, in fact, what they appear to be.

(How does this differ from investigations of near-death experiences? Well, NDEs usually happen in a clinical setting and are studied by researchers who specialize in medical science. And more often than not, they can convincingly argue that the NDE was "real" and not the result of known problems of perception.)

I actually bought Bud Hopkins' book on the Cortile incident right after it came out (albeit at discount from a second-hand store). Someone had bought it and quickly resold it for reasons unknown. I was very impressed with the book. Bud Hopkins was a good writer who was able to convey an aura of authority to his material. When I read George Hansen's critique of the case shortly thereafter, I thought, "Hey, wait a minute... this makes a lot of sense, too." Ultimately, I was more convinced by Hansen's critique for an important reason. Hopkins told an extraordinary story that defied logical explanation, and while it was fascinating and well-told, it was unsubstantiated. It was an extraordinary, profoundly strange experience that lacked the necessary hard proof. We were asked to accept the account as-is, based on the testimony of some of the participants. As a result, Hansen was able to cause me to doubt the testimony by highlighting some significant flaws in the narrative. For all I know, the Cortile case might have gone down the way that Hopkins said it did. But after Hansen, I doubted it then, and I still do now.

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