Friday, August 22, 2014

Dr. John Mack and His Irrational Argument for Hypnosis

The video below was recently posted by Paul Kimball. It contains a couple or so minutes of footage shot by Mr. Kimball at a press conference conducted at the 2001 MUFON Symposium in Irvine, California. 

In the video, the late Dr. John Mack attempts to defend the use of hypnosis, or what he prefers to call a relaxation exercise, as a memory retrieval tool for alleged alien abductees. 


I find the doctor's lines of reasoning profoundly irrational. Shockingly so, as a matter of fact.

Arguing the validity of hypnosis, Mack offered an example he apparently felt would support his point. He explained that an alleged abductee recalled an alien-related experience in a quite different manner before hypnosis as compared to during hypnosis. Mack astonishingly seemed to view the discrepancy as evidence of the value of hypnosis in clarifying actuality, as opposed to calling the validity of the memories into question.

It went something like this:

Witness testimony: I met a very friendly alien.

Witness testimony under hypnosis: I met a very unfriendly alien.

Hypnotist: That is an excellent example of how hypnosis assists the client in discerning reality. 

I challenge the validity of such lines of reasoning. 

In the event one might wonder, yes, I have read Mack's material. I also attended one of his presentations during the 1990's. I was not surprised to find him well spoken and entertaining. His activities were of course greatly appreciated by proponents of alien abduction as a literal reality. 

His work was of interest to many at the time due to his credentials and status in the academic community. It seemed there might actually be something to the fantastic reports and witness testimonies - and there still may be. I'm not suggesting that everything from Mothman to Fatima necessarily hinges on Mack coming down with a case of mind freeze during a UFO con presser.

Nonetheless, I challenge the logic behind the example Dr. Mack presented. It is simply irrational.


  1. It is curious that you ignored Mack's opening statement:

    "The bulk of data about the abduction phenomena does not come from hypnosis. Almost all my cases report their experiences just straight forwardly."

    This rings true from my direct experience as a researcher.

    I have been actively talking to people who claim the abduction experience in their lives, and almost all of them have never had any kind of hypnosis. They tell me their very strange stories, and yes there is a sense that some things are missing, as if they were subject to some sort of amnesia concerning parts of their experiences.

    But, what is remembered consciously is enough for them to conclude that something very bizarre has intersected with their lives.

    I also know a lot of people who have undergone hypnosis and basically don't trust it, and they say it was interesting, but they don't add any of the details remembered under hypnosis to the way they frame their experiences.

    They are wary of these details.

    You are framing this as if ALL abduction research is based entirely on the retrieved memories plucked out by hypnotherapy. I have some books on UFO abduction on my shelf where it seems that that the authors heavily weighted the information gleaned from hypnosis accounts, but surprisingly few. So, even in the literature of the abductee, *especially the first person accounts* written by abductees (and I have a LOT of those books) there is very little dependance on hypnosis to make their case.

    The subject of UFO abduction could be researched WITHOUT any dependance on hypnosis, and I feel strongly that any open minded investigator would still conclude that there is a genuine mystery at play—even with hypnosis excluded as part of their investigation. Something is going on that is deeply impacting the lives of very real people.

    Mike Clelland

    1. Mike, you wrote, "The subject of UFO abduction could be researched WITHOUT any dependance on hypnosis..."

      As well it should, and that is one of my ongoing points. I think we have to be careful not to fall in the trap of comparing apples to orangutans.

      Arguing the validity of reported experiences is one thing. Carefully examining the validity (and lack thereof) of hypnosis as a memory retrieval tool is another. To confuse the issues enables the irrationality often asserted by the hypnotists.

    2. I have attempted hypnosis three times to try and retrieve more memories from my own UFO experiences. Nothing new emerged from these three sessions, each with a different researcher. These would be Leo Sprinkle, Budd Hopkins and Barbara Lamb. It was interesting to compare their techniques. What I can say is each of these people were extremely sensitive and compassionate therapists, and I was grateful for their help.

      During the session with Budd I got some very clear visuals of the inside of the house I lived in as a 12-year old boy. Including seeing a clock in the kitchen that clearly showed it was 11:20 PM, this matched exactly my conscious memory. This would have been when I returned home after a missing time event. I do not treat that view of the clock as any kind of direct confirmation that I arrived home at 11:20.

      There may be a day when I follow up with another attempt. I feel I am cautious and skeptical, and I would be able to take any information from hypnosis and treat it with objectivity. I am as deeply curious about the process of hypnosis, and I am one to dive right in and experience it rather than talk about it from the side-lines.

      At this point I am trying to explore my experiences with as much depth as possible before attempting another hypnotic regression.

      I have had a successful hypnotic experience for something totally unrelated to my UFO memories. I found it very therapeutic for some troubling life issues. The entire experience was fascinating.

      Mike Clelland

    3. I empathize with your search for deeper understanding, Mike. I sincerely do.

      I have simply become aware of too many circumstances in which those who promote hypnosis as an effective memory retrieval tool demonstrate extremely questionable behavior. My opinion would not be swayed by anecdotal accounts suggesting those people have the abilities to behave compassionately on occasion. That is neither questioned nor the issue.

      My conclusions are based on such circumstances as Hopkins explaining he was stacking the deck:

      Lamb's perpetual failure to present conclusive evidence of her claims, aversion from reasonable questions and MUFON's disingenuous related policies:

      The Carpenter Affair:

      Emma Woods:

      Mike, the line of reasoning presented by Mack in the video is simply irrational. The logic is flawed, and that's all there is to it.

      The circumstances cited and linked above should cause great concern to anyone with sincere interest in the reported phenomena and the treatment of, what by any other name, are research subjects. The occurrences are insults to intelligence.

      You and your experiences are another topic. Again, I wish you success in finding deeper understanding.

  2. I knew of the opinions and conclusions of Budd, Leo and Barbara before ever lying down and submitting myself to their hypnosis techniques. I agreed with them on many points, and disagreed with them on others. I feel like I'm a big boy, and I know how to balance that out.

    I kid you not, this is some terribly freaky shit to try to come to terms with, and I was seeking their help knowing full well that we weren't on the same page on some points. I had read books by Budd, Leo and Barbara before consulting them.

    Barbara and Leo are therapists first, and I can say they both have wonderful presence about them. I was seeking solace and they were both deeply helpful just talking about my conscious memories.

    Budd, though not a therapist, was also extremely sensitive and helpful. I have video tapes of some of our conversations as well as the entirety of my hypnosis session. I don't feel he was leading me in any way.

    I don't like artichoke hearts, and sometimes when I order a veggie pizza I need to pick them out and set them on the side of my plate. I do this with UFO researchers too. This stuff is SO bizarre and so "all over the map" that it's pretty much a given that I'll disagreed with some aspect of a researchers method or conclusion.

    If I dismissed a researcher outright because I disagree with some aspect of their methodology, I wouldn't talk to anyone.

    I call what I do research, and it should more correctly be called *my own self-therapy* (I am entirely serious about that) and I am seeking insight and input where ever I can find it. From the driest "Nuts & Bolts" old men to the flightiest "Love & Light" young women. I have found gems in the darkness from all corners of this circus called ufology.

    I am not trying to win a debate, nor am I trying to prove anything. I am trying to better understand the hidden events that haunt me, and to stay sane as I proceed forward along this path.

    Mike Clelland

  3. I appreciate Mike's nuanced view of how he goes about doing "self-therapy" - by seeking out insight and help wherever he finds it and by being cautious. That's admirable. If every troubled person who approached an abduction researcher was that self-aware, perhaps the field would be in a different place than it is now.

    But - as someone who was often there during the process - I know that isn't always the case. People who came to Budd often came having just read one of his or Jacobs' books. Some had just seen him on a television show, which he did very well. In short, they were coming to be fixed by someone who had already "been approved" according to several societal measures: they were famous, they were Ph.D.s or a doctor, they were on television a lot, they'd been published, and they were extremely articulate, charismatic and convincing: We know about your life problems and we know _the_ cause.

    The people who come to these men are almost always pre-conditioned to discover abduction experiences. And _some_ people (not all!) do get most of their abduction memories straight out of hypnotic regressions with these famous researchers. On videotape, Linda Cortile, of the Witnessed case, tells me that 85% of her recounted events come from hypnotic recall. Eighty-five per cent! Either the patient or the researcher should have seriously considered whether this was a venture that should have continued for almost ten years.

  4. Carol brings up a legitimate point that the leading of the hypnosis subject begins long before they meet the hypnotist. Another valid concern is the disproportionate percentage of recounted events that may come from hypnotic recall.

    In the case of Leah Haley, for example, she initially contacted Hopkins, who referred her to John Carpenter, for reasons apparently including Haley resided closer to Carpenter than she did to Hopkins. Haley was initially interested in learning more about a memory she had of a single UFO sighting from childhood and involving missing time.

    A single UFO sighting.

    Some 14 or so hypnosis sessions later, conducted within a calendar year, Carpenter 'assisted' Haley in creating mental imagery that included a lifetime of alien abductions and related traumatic alleged experiences. What many fail to realize is that the emotional baggage created by such circumstances can be very heavy, far reaching and long term.

    Ask Emma Woods.

    Here's another relevant point: The experiences with UFO-hypnotists of Haley and Woods are neither isolated incidents nor entirely unusual circumstances. They just happen to be more widely known than many others.

  5. ...and yet there are most definitely thousands of other experiencers who would never dare to go public because of the nonsense that ensues within the ufology community as a whole. It's traumatizing enough as it is to have to go through all of this, let alone deal with the consequences when dealing with the ufology community itself. That's essentially becoming traumatized all over again. No one wants to go through that, believe me.

    Jack, I would respectfully ask just how it is that you feel that the experiences of Haley and Woods are neither isolated incidents, nor entirely unusual circumstances. How is it you would know this? I'm truly asking, not trying to start an argument.

    For the record, absolutely none of my own experiences, nor that of our sons, are what one would term in the ufology realm as 'normal.' They aren't. NO typical grays involved in the scenario, although one researcher just happened to 'know' that they were involved w/o ever having spoken to me personally at that time. Bias is an issue I also have with this field, not to mention the entire trust issue as well.

    1. Bayareamom, you wrote, "Jack, I would respectfully ask just how it is that you feel that the experiences of Haley and Woods are neither isolated incidents, nor entirely unusual circumstances. How is it you would know this?"

      Please note that I was writing about their experiences _with UFO hypnotists_. I was referring to the betrayal and related occurrences as neither isolated nor entirely unusual circumstances. Many such cases can be cited, including the 140, which includes Haley, exploited during the Carpenter Affair. Emma Woods writes about others, in addition to herself, who are unhappy with their treatment from David Jacobs, etc. I see the problems as more systemic and inherent than isolated.

  6. I see. Thanks for clearing that up, Jack.

  7. I just viewed the above video with Dr. John Mack. What Dr. Mack states toward the end of this video completely resonates with me. I think what Mack was saying was that this young man's bravado/psyche/ego WANTED to believe was that he was some sort of 'chosen' specimen/love interest during the abduction scenario he'd recalled having. However. what this same individual discovered during his regression was far from what he wanted to believe happened to him.

    I'm not a psychologist, but I am inclined to agree with Dr. Mack's assertions re: hypnosis (if handled appropriately) can truly flesh out that which the abductee has not consciously recalled.

    Also, remember that the bulk of data about abduction does NOT come from hypnosis.

    I believe I have stated here in a prior comment that most of my own experiences and that of our son's are consciously recalled by the two of us.

    During my research into the abduction phenomenon, I have either read and/or heard during various interviews re: the fact that some abductees have literally awakened in find physical anomalies on their bodies which could not be simply explained away, i.e., broken bones, heavy bruising, burn marks, so-called scoop marks, etc., so forth. For some abductees, this scenario is repeated time and again upon awakening, so much so that the situation almost lends itself to further investigation as to why these things are occurring.

    In this instance, I can readily understand, upon ruling out all other possibilities, wherein regression may be a useful tool within which to explore why these things are happening.

    I, too, have awakened on several occasions, at times when I was a child and one incident fairly recently, to inexplicable marks on my body. I awakened one morning to find my alarm clock and my DVD player flashing, when no other electricals in our home were affected. That same morning, I awakened completely nauseous and had an extremely strange pinkish/purplish rash underneath both of my arms and around my pelvic area. These areas were at the same time both itchy and sore. On my right hand, the fleshy portion of my thumb and index finger appeared a perfectly shaped small circle, reddish in color which indicated it was still fairly fresh. You could see within this circular mark that there were several layers of skin missing; the mark disappeared by the following morning.

    I suppose I could have tried regression to help sort out what may have happened to me, but I chose to not do so.

    I have stated as well in a prior comment that the therapist I found some time later became a literal godsend to me during the time these events were occurring. I think the use of hypnosis can be a mixed bag, but if handled appropriately and the subject is not led in any way, it can be a useful tool to help flesh out the circumstances of the individual experiencing these anomalous events.