How do people manage to believe strange things? One way is simply to conclude that they have Special Powers, of course; but apart from that? Skeptical Inquirer discusses it via a review of Susan Clancy’s Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens.

…no one wakes up in the morning with a full-blown abduction experience. Sometimes, the experience is created and molded from the starting point of a dream or hypnogogic/hypnopompic hallucination experienced during sleep paralysis. Other times, it starts with just a vague feeling that something had happened that needs to be explained. According to Clancy, all of the abductees she studied “had sought out books, movies, researchers, and hypnotists in an effort to understand the things that were troubling them” (143). Since sleep paralysis and its related hallucinations are almost unknown to the general public, the real explanation is not available. Thus, when someone who has had such an experience reads one of the books touting the reality of alien abductions or hears such claims on television or elsewhere, it seems the only explanation available.

Up to a point. I always wonder why people don’t ask themselves why the aliens drop in only when the dropped in on have just woken up from sound sleep. Why don’t they knock on the door at 3 in the afternoon and ask for lemonade? Why don’t they show up at noon and help make lunch? Why don’t they show up right after dinner and pass the mints? Why don’t they show up when everyone for miles around is wide awake and alert and dressed and walking around and thinking straight? Eh? Why is it always when people are lying there in fetid heaps wondering what woke them oh it’s an alien? You would think they’d wonder. Not, maybe, if it were something only a little bit strange, something absurd but not physically impossible – (I have to say that because I once had an auditory hallucination after being woken up at 3 a.m., and I didn’t realize it was a hallucination until years later, reading about hypnogogic sleep. But what I heard wasn’t aliens, or god rehearsing a speech, or The Great Unicorn humming a tune. It was odd, even socially impossible, but not supernatural.) – but if it were aliens? Barney and Betty aliens, mashed potato aliens, sperm-head aliens? I would think that would make people look a little harder for other explanations. But then of course some do; it’s just that others don’t. That’s not all that surprising. It’s a big world.

In chapter 5, “Who gets abducted?”, she reports the results of her own research on dozens of abductees, whom she interviewed and gave psychological tests. In general, these people are quite normal. They are certainly, with an exception or two, not “crazy,” as so many first suspect upon hearing their tales. They are, however, more imaginative, creative, and fantasy-prone than the general population.

Sure. It’s not at all about being crazy, I should think, it’s about being credulous, uncritical, mentally passive. All of which are natural! Those are pretty much default mode; it takes learning to be the other thing. Skepticism and caution and logic, poking at inferences, realizing the difference between correlation and causation – all those are learned behaviour. Lots of people never do learn it. And there are masses of influences teaching the opposite.

It may surprise you to know that my co-author has Special Powers. He’s been telling me about them lately. He was considering telling you about them too, but he may have decided not to profane the mysteries. He has a faint hope that telling me about his Special Powers will convince me that he is by definition always right about everything, but I have roundly assured him that it won’t. I defeated him in argument six times earlier today; he was merely too stiff-necked to concede as much.

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