In the current issue of Paranthropology: The Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal (4.2, April 2013), anthropologist Dr. Steven Mizrach of Florida International University has an interesting if unsatisfactory paper on “The Para-Anthropology of UFO Abductions.” Mizrach correctly notes the extreme unlikelihood of UFOs being alien spaceships, and he also correctly looks for anthropological and psychological origins for the Grays, lizard people, etc. However, Mizrach appears to be reading too much into U.S. government UFO reports and the skeptical position on UFOs in order to bolster an unusual conclusion that beings from another dimension are invading our minds, a conclusion he reached, he said, by using the methodology of Sherlock Holmes: eliminating every possibility until only one solution (alien mind invaders) remained.
Mizrach discusses the University of Colorado UFO Project's Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, better known as the Condon Report of 1969, and the work of Philip Klass, Robert Schaeffer, and CSI (formerly CSICOP), and he complains that the scientific and skeptical view is that UFOs are misidentifications of natural phenomena or hoaxes and therefore do not contribute to scientific knowledge “in any useful way.” This is where he takes issue:
I mean, even if the essential model is correct, science could still learn something from studying UFO reports. Perhaps we could learn more about human misperception of stars and planets, the inability for people to correctly estimate the size or distance of aerial objects, or even the mechanisms behind the confabulation of false stories. Yet, that is the mantra of the 1969 report, that nothing of scientific value can be gained from studying UFO reports, and therefore the Air Force and other branches of government have no need to investigate them.
Let’s back up and look at the exact wording of what the U.S. Air Force-funded Condon Report said, all the more important because Mizrach does not provide this information:
We feel that the reason that there has been very little scientific study of the subject is that those scientists who are most directly concerned, astronomers, atmospheric physicists, chemists, and psychologists, having had ample opportunity to look into the matter, have individually decided that UFO phenomena do not offer a fruitful field in which to look for major scientific discoveries. (p. 2)
It’s interesting that the Condon Report does include psychologists among the hard scientists who have no interest in UFOs. However, I don’t know any skeptics and few scientists who doubt that UFOs can be used to teach us about human nature. Susan A. Clancy’s Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens (2005) is a great example of this, as is Thomas Bullard’s work on the folklore and mythic correlates of UFO abduction narratives.
It’s fairly obvious that the Condon Report was heavily implying that the “major scientific discoveries” were related to “extraterrestrial life,” not human perception of the supernatural. This is confirmed a few pages later when the Report writes:
As the reader of this report will readily judge, we have focussed attention almost entirely on the physical sciences. This was in part a matter of determining priorities and in part because we found rather less than some persons may have expected in the way of psychiatric problems related to belief in the reality of UFOs as craft from remote galactic or intergalactic civilizations. We believe that the rigorous study of the beliefs--unsupported by valid evidence--held by individuals and even by some groups might prove of scientific value to the social and behavioral sciences. There is no implication here that individual or group psychopathology is a principal area of study. Reports of UFOs offer interesting challenges to the student of cognitive processes as they are affected by individual and social variables. By this connection, we conclude that a content-analysis of press and television coverage of UFO reports might yield data of value both to the social scientist and the communications specialist. The lack of such a study in the present report is due to a judgment on our part that other areas of investigation were of much higher priority. We do not suggest, however, that the UFO phenomenon is, by its nature, more amenable to study in these disciplines than in the physical sciences. On the contrary, we conclude that the same specificity in proposed research in these areas is as desirable as it is in the physical sciences. (p. 6)
So, in short, Mizrach is wrong about the Condon Report and about the skeptical position on the value of studying UFOs, alien abductions, and by extension ancient astronauts. I do not know if he simply failed to read the Condon Report and relied instead on secondary summaries or if he purposely misrepresented the material, but either way this is a serious error for a university scholar, especially one who is lending academic authority to an extreme claim about reality.
Since his premise is that “official” science rejects any value in studying UFOs so therefore “alternative” views proposed by ufologists therefore have value, the fact that Mizrach has seriously misread the Condon Report casts doubt on his discussion of ufological theories as a serious attempt to take back the value of UFO studies from an uncaring mainstream science. In other words, if scientists are not rejecting the value of UFO studies, then there is no false dichotomy that forces us to accept extreme views of UFOs as the only acceptable alternative.
This becomes obvious as he moves toward the conclusion of his article, in which he advocates the Ultra-Terrestrial Hypothesis (UTH) whereby we are meant to understand aliens as an expression in this dimension of actual living beings from another plane of existence. Mizrach recognizes that skeptics will see this as “magical thinking,” but he suggests that it is the only way to explain why visions seen in altered states of consciousness are so powerful and convincing. He claims that UFO phenomena and ancient myths and legends are all of a piece, and all of this is related to a controlling intelligence from another dimension. His evidence, however, is extremely shoddy.
We can’t prove the existence of other dimensions or planes of reality. But a growing number of physicists do claim that our scientific models suggest they should exist. Still, those predictions also suggest that movement from one universe to another should be impossible. But, again, is this something we know for certain? The one thing I am sure of, however, is that there is an intelligence behind the phenomenon, and that whatever we are dealing with cannot be visiting us on a regular basis from somewhere in our universe that is thousands of light years away. [...] Perhaps, as Patrick Harpur (2003) has argued, these entities in some way interact and mold themselves to our perceptions and beliefs, in some way crossing the Cartesian divide between physical reality and imagination, and this explains the nature of their manifestations.
This is anthropology?
Mizrach concludes by suggesting that the entities “conform” to our cultural perceptions and that the Condon Report is shackling science from finding these creatures, even four decades later.
I find it very difficult to understand how Mizrach can discuss Carl Jung and shamanism but seems to either be unaware of or is choosing to omit the anthropological and archaeological work of David Lewis-Williams, now more than a decade old, which very clearly lays out the neurological basis for the phenomena Mizrach ascribes to magic beings from another dimension. Briefly, Lewis-Williams found that altered states of consciousness induced by meditation, drugs, or dreaming produce a fixed range of images that are defined by the structure of our brains and that cultural conditioning interprets as various monsters, gods, and objects. He found that this holds true across cultures and through time, from the Paleolithic to today, and can be traced in everything from cave art to religious myths.
As someone who has (rarely) experienced the types of intense dream states that Lewis-Williams identified with the apotheosis of gods or monsters, I can attest that there is nothing in them that cannot be attributed to mental effects. I’ve written before about how when I was sick as a child I experienced a vision of a frog with a Mohawk haircut wearing a leather jacket, and years later I had an “abduction” experience, though more Gothic horror than techno-epiphany. The monster vanished as soon as I realized I was dreaming, but while it was present it was excruciatingly real. I just can’t see why we need to imagine another dimension of reality interacting with this one to explain how our brains work.
At any rate, I found Mizrach’s paper particularly noteworthy because it involves a real scholar amassing a large bibliography in service of creating a false dichotomy based on a misrepresentation in order to lend credence to the idea that monsters from another dimension are invading our brains. Given its scholarly patina, I imagine it will become a staple of ancient astronaut and ufology literature for years to come.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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