PART III: Lost In Translation

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PART III: Lost In Translation


"Quaero non pono, nihil hic determino dictans; coniuncio, conor, confero, tento, rogo..."

"I inquire, I do not assert; I do not here determine anything with final assurance; I conjecture, try, compare, attempt, ask..."


The counterpoint to invasion hysteria comes from those who consider themselves the voice of science and reason.  Many of these largely humanistic scientists are members of the international organization, Commitee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOPS).

The Skeptical Inquirer is their official journal.  They are the self-styled "psi-cops," or in other words, the "brain police."  They are the champions of scientific reductionism and have attacked everything from Jung's notion of archetypes, crop circles, catastrophism, etc.  They lump them all together as pseudoscience.

Ted Goertzel, a sociologist from Rutgers University revealed his latest reasearch findings on UFO phenomena in the Spring 1994 SKEPTICAL INQUireer.  In "Measuring the Prevalence of False Memories: A New Interpretation of UFO Abduction Survey," Goertzel concludes that UFO abductions are a false-memory phenomenon.

Based on 697 interviews with New Jersey reesidents, he found that people who reported UFO abduction experiences were also likely to believe in conspiracy theories of various kinds, to receive extrasensory messages from deceased relatives, to see halos around people's heads, and to believe in astrology.  He characterized them as gullible--people who persist in beliefs that go against objective evidence.

However, it seems that he may be ignoring the fact that a study showing that those reporting abductions have other possibly related weird beliefs does nothing to eliminate the evidence of hundreds of corroborated video tapes, such as those from the 1991-1995 Mexico City flap where no abductions have been reported.

As in the case of False Memory Syndrome, many false reports of sexual abuse created by hysterical contagion do not negate the fact that incest and molestation do occur to some people, whether they are gullible or not.

Researchers are therefore cautioned to keep an open mind, not overlooking the fact that even though abductions may be over-reported for a variety of sociological reasons, it says nothing final about the UFO phenomenon itself.  Studies isolating aspects of the overall phenomenon may give misleading impressions about the broader scenario.

The apparant sociological fact that  many people reeport falacious UFO abductions for whatever reaons would seem to coorborate the infection "viral" nature of the notion.  However, neither Goertzel's "gullible" theory nor an information viirus hypothesis can account for such documented events as the relationship betweeen cattle mutilationns and UFO siightings, or simultaneous videotaping of disks in the sky.  Are we to assume that the camcorders are also "gullible."

Goertzel wanted to debunk the notion that virtually millions of people are being abducted by aliens.  He's probably right, at least in New Jersey.  Howevver, if only one human is genuinely abducted, that person serves a fair hearing, uncontaminated by experimenter bias.

IIf the repressed memories of UFO abductees are induced through alien mind control techniques there is no research we can produce on the etiology of this syndrome.  But for those who falsely, if sincerely, claim this experience the only explanations lie within the domain of cognitive psychology.

The creation, construction, storage and retrieval of memory can tell us much about an unconscious process which erupts from beneath the threshold of consciusness.  Most of this research on the creation of false memories involves images of sexual or satanic ritual abuse, coincidentally common theme in mental delusions.

Another Fellow of CSICOPS is Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington.  Her research specialty is False Memory Syndrome.  In fact, she is virtually a High Priestess of Skepticism, and through her numerous articles and appearances in the media, she is spreading the work through her own mission.

In her SKEPTICAL INQUIRER article (1995), "Remembering Dangerously," she draws a parallel between the witch-hunt trials of old and accusations of alleged abusers by their victims, based solely on flashbacks and dreams.  She is motivated by the hope that this work will short-circuit the mass hysteria which is leading to superfluous lawsuits and family estrangment.

As a cognitive psychologist, she is highly critical of the "repressed-mmemory folklore," pointing out that case "proofs" often leave out critical information.  With no other evidence of guilt, people have been convinced of the most heinous crimes.  The False Memory syndrome is so powerful that even innocent individuals have "confessed" as if they were guilty, under the tremendous pressure.

Among the forms of "de-repressed" memories, she includes abduction: "Sometimes memories incompass past-life memories (Stevenson, 1994) or take an even more bizarre, alien twist (Mack, 1994)."

"The repression theory is well articulated by Steele (1994:41).  It is the 'theory' that we forget events because they are too horrible to contemplate, that we cannot remember these forgotten events by any normal process of casting our minds back but can reliably retieve them by special techniques, that these forgotten events, banished from consciusness, arrive to enter it in disguised forms, that forgotten events have the power to cause apparently unrelated problems in our lives, which can be cured by excavating and reliving the forgotten event."

Loftus questions: "Is it not time to admit that the repression folklore is simply a fairy tale?  The tale may be appealing, but what of its relationship to science?  Unfortunately, it is partly refuted, partly untested, and partly untestable.  This is not to say that all recovered memories are thus false.  Responsible skepticism is skepticism about some claims of recovered memory.  It is not a blanket rejection of all claims."

"People sometimes remember what was once forgotten; such forgetting and remembering does not mean repression and de-repression, but it does mean that some recently remembered events might reflect authetic memories.  Each case must be examined on its merits to explore the credibility, the timing, the motives, the potential for suggestion, the corroboration, and other features to make an intelligent assessment of what any mental product means."

She reminds us that Yapko agrees symptoms by themselves cannot establish the existence of past abuse.  Loftus quotes Briere's criticism that "extended and intense effort to make a client uncover all traumatic material is not a good idea since this is often to the detriment of other therapeutic tasks, such as support, consolidation, desensitization, and emotional insight."

These dangers of false-memory are endemic to psychotherapy and its existing paradigm.  Loftus is bringing the foundations of that paradigm into question and calling for a shift toward new techniques.  But she never really details them, except as "enhancement of functioning."

She seems to have a little witch-hunt of her own going on.  She eis leveling an accusation not only at the repressed memory "cult," but indicting the entire basic theory of psychotherapy--its metanarrative.  In leveling accusations at her own profession of psychology as well as the "false accusers" are her own projections or rational typological biases showing?

Not to say that Loftus isn't diligent.  In American Psychologist (May 1993, 518-537), she outlines her argument very systematically.  She begins with a landmark case of a trial in Redwood Ciity, California where a defendant was accused of a murder, which had happened 20 years earlier.  The accuser was the defendant's daughter, who had "depressed" the memory.  As of Spring of 1995, the trial was thrown our of court based on FMS.  Yet, the trial got a lot of press, and to make a long story short, Loftus seems to present it as a ort of "Typhoid Mary" of the repressed memory syndrome, because she declares:

"Soon after the Franklin case, a string of others involving newly emerged distant memories appeared in the media.  People accused by the holders of repressed memories wrote letters asking for help.  Lawyers found themselves being asked to represent parties in legal cases involving represssed memories."

So Loftus wanted to find out just how common claims of repressed memories are for not only sexual abuse but other types of traumas.  She criticized studies for wide-ranging findings of 18%-59% for sexual abuse, revealing that claims about repressed memories are far too freely made by therapists and legal scholars based on flimsy research.  In one study the respondents were all in therapy.  The vast majority of those abused remembered it their whole lives.

Loftus concludes that, "it is misleading to assume that simple failure to remember means that repression has occurred.  If an event happened so early in life, before the offset of childhood amnesia, then a woman would not be expected to remember it as an adult, whether it was abuse or something else."

People (14-25%) routinely fail to remember significant life events, such as auto accidents or hospitalizations, as little as a year after their occurrance.  These studies are hard to conduct because they inquire about a memory for forgetting a memory.

If massive repression is a mechanism for coping why don't children who witness murders suppress the memory for this most horrific event?  What could be more traumatic?  In a study by Malmquist in 1986, "not a single child aged 5 to 10 years who had witnessed the murder of a parent repressed the memory.  Rather, they were continually flooded with pangs of emotion about the murder and preoccupation with it."

Psychotherapists have assumed for years that unconscius memories are waiting to erupt into consciousness, but a wide variety of hormonal and neuronal systems can also create distress.  In some cases, suggestive probing may make the theory a seeming reality.




FMS is only one phenomenon associated with memory, there are others.  Riccio, et al (1994) examined the nature and purpose of forgetting in "Memory: When Less is More."  Research shows that for animals and humans, forgetting of stimuli as a distinct memory can lead to increases in behavior.  There are consequences for this pervasive type of memory impairment.

Forgetting of stimulus attributes is the failure to remember the particular features of an episode.  It means increasing loss of discriminability among perceptually distinguishable events, as memory representations homogenize.

It bears on our discussion because it provides a systematic framework for undertanding the phenomenon of reality monitoring and monitoring information about sources.  "A number of human cognitive phenomena are attributable to impairments in source monitoring." reflecting loss of memory for the stimulus attributes of the original cue.  This results in the false positives of faulty memory.

"Put casually, both humans and animals can often remember how to respond while forgetting the particular condition under which they should respond.  As a consequence, they come to respond to a broader range of stimuli than would have been the case shortly after learning."  This is the phenomenon of generalization.  In tests, subjects tended to respond fearfully to a broader range of stimuli.

Forgetting the stimulus feeatures with subsequent errors in reconstruction is the single process that can also include behavioral phenomena ranging from the misleading information effect in eye-witness memory, to the "sleeper" effect, familiarity effect, and temporal shifts.

What boundary conditions lead to the increased malleability of memory?  Loftus notes that with a long interval between the event and the misinformation, the injection of misinformation becomes relatively easy.  It is increasingly easy to distort memory after the passage of time.  NLP has an axiom: "Every access is a reframe."  Everytime a memory is called up it is subject to associative changes.  And those changes are axiomatically related to attitudes associated with the incident.

When therapists use the "Change History" protocol, they know that if you change the outcome, you also change the attitudes linked to those cues.

In cognitive confusion, we cannot keep memories of perceived events separate from those of imaginal episodes, or reality monitoring.  Though input is compartmentalized, these compartments are permeable, creating hybrid representations.  Representations tend to converge as more details are forgotten.  For reality monitoring, it is important not to confuse information based on valid sources with those from imaginal sources.

We also have a pervasive tendency to view past events as inevitable.  People believe that events reported have to have happened and to have happened that way, and that the outcomes ( in retrospect) could not have been otherwise.  In the natural world loss of memory for specific details of earlier events and choice points help give rise to the perceived inevitability of today's known outcome.

Also, contextual clues for retrieval are related to support retrieval of the target.  Because the functional similarity of cues increases as attributes are forgotten, the degree of interference from other episodes could also increase.  Familiar attributes are forgotten more slowly than other attributes.

The notion of familiarity has been proposed in UFO literature.  It has been repeatedly suggested that UFOs and abduction stories are elaborated in terms conceivable for the times.  Thus, more archaic stories, such as that of Ezekiel, contain less technical interpretations of the phenomenon.  Charles Fort recounts the stories of a Welsh man, Mr. Rhys, who claimed to be abducted by fairies, and that of Travis Walton, whose abduction was the basis of the movie, FIRE IN THE SKY.

One man had been brought up in the age of faeries, while the other was a child of the sci-fi era.  Fort concluded that they both went through the experience of abduction and each explained it, as Fort noted, "in terms of the familiar."

In the sleeper effect, evidence is disregarded or discounted for the moment but comes to have an impact on decision making as the discounting cue but not the message is forgotten.  Other recall tests show that situational details are forgotten (behavior) whereas dispositional information (traits) remains more constant.

The forgetting of stimulus attributes leads to generalized responding to a broader range of stimulus situations, and may become more extreme or polarized.  So, fear or trauma can lead to more generalized fearful reactions in unrelated situations.  In such a "trance" state, we fail to recognize the absence of relevant information.  Hardened attitudes create more extreme inferences based on global evaluations.

The exemplar model of memory suggests that we compare a target stimulus with its similarity to the memory representations of exemplars.  The current target of memory elicits retrieval of representations in memory of particular stimuli or episodes that share similar attributes with the target item.

We can speculate that this model has definite implications especially for distant, ambiguous UFO sightings in a culture that is steeped in that imagery.  This model implies that if we see an unusual light in the sky, we will immediately access and reference that image against stored images of UFOs from various cultural sources.  Listen to a child tell about a sighting, and they note, "it wasn't the moon, it wasn't a tree, it wasn't an airplane or helicopter, it wasn't this or that or the other," constantly referencing and comparing to known potentials.

In the general dynamics of memory, when a particular response is retained but the specific circumstances associated  with it are forgotten, important shifts in cognition, attitudes, and judgements can result.  Perceptions can be altered.  Contextual features and source boundaries are among the least enduring attributes in memory.

These phenomena are part of the essential nature of the background from which false memories arise.  The qualities of memories which filter back vary tremendously from detailed and vivid to very vague.  Their clarity shows little relationship to the remoteness of the reported events.

When events are reported for pre-verbal experience, the phenomenon of childhood amnesia sshould be considered in evaluating their validity.  Studies show that childhood memories for under 3 years old are very rare, and only the birth of a sibling or hospitalization was remembered at age 2.  But this type of thing can be heard from others and incorporated later.

Memory is malleable even for life's most traumatic experiences.  It can be influenced by exposure to others who truly experienced the trauma.  Memories for personally experienced traumatic events can be altered by new experiences, and events that never happened can be injected into memory.  Reported false memories range from the trivial to the bizarre.

Loftus suggests that for abuse memories, popular writings have been so fully absorbed into our culture that they could be the source -- abuse may be real, but it also functions as a contagious social virus -- a meme.  The same is true for UFO information which is in books, movies, television, and radio.  yet, memories are detailed and confidently held, and some of them (or some parts of them) are real.

Is it necessarily true that people who dream about or visualize abuse are actually getting in touch with true memories?  Initial wonderings supported by therapist's affirmation can become fixed beliefs.

Loftus concludes that "Zealous conviction is a dangerous substitute for an open mind," but, we should be very careful how we probe for horrors on the other side of some presumed amnesiac barrier.


We all naturally seek some form of guidance in navigating the turmoil of life.  Professional help is held out as a panacea for psychosocial life.  But obviously not all guides are created equal.

Abductees are not generally warmly met by therapists unexperienced in therapy with this subject and unaffiliated with any UFO group.  One experiencer, after being given Prozac and Xanax by his medical doctor, sought therapy with this result:  "When I tried to discuss this with a counselor, the counselor freaked out and said that the insurance company would not pay him for discussing UFOs."

"As far as I'm concerned, that's an admission that they exist:  If I wwas hallucinating them, wouldn't he WANT to discuss them with me and help me?  He seemed actually terrified when I brought it up.  Another time when my wife and I were seeing a counselor, I told her about our experiences, and she said, "a lot of people have those experiences, so what?'  It was apparent that the psychology community is not into discussing these matters and simply avoids them whenever possible."

There are three styles of denial present in psychological concepts:  1) nominalism, or focus on classifying, naming, diagnosing; 2) nihilism, or archaic denial which finds shelter in existentialism; and 3) transcendence, which would refuse psychopathology by standing above it, which might be said of humanistic psychology, and the upwardly striving orientation of the human potential movement.

As a secular philosophy, Humanism is based in existentialism and provided an ethical base for atheistic scientists in its early days.  Later when the countercultural shift happened, there was a split between the non-theists and the theistic acknowledgement of a generic Higher Power by the Transpersonal psychologists who came from the humanistic background.

Gestalt, Transactional Analysis, Humanistic and Transpersonal psychologies all share this background.  The notion of being responsible for and to oneself comes from existentialism and gestalt; that of a higher responsibility or accountability appears in transpersonalism.

The humanist Abraham Maslow noted that mankind has a basic need for "peak experiences," which transcend the banlity of normal experiences.  Transpersonal psychology hold much in common with the Jungian school of psychotherapy, but Jungians are more apt to embrace the darker side of life without judging it "sick."  Most psychotherapists these days are ecclectic in their approach and try out various techniques from time to time.

Both observe and classify various typical behavior patterns as dynamic processes and use processes or protocols in psychotherapy.  Thus, gestalt will prescribe the "two chair technique" for any number of polarized conflicts, while transpersonal psychologies routinely prescribe meditation or inner work for increasing an overall sense of harmony, in addition to body work, art therapy, etc.

In all of these therapies, the psychotherapist is considered as more or less of a guide for the unfolding process of the client.  The unique unfolding of each therapeutic session is a co-creation of both parties involved.

So it is easy to see that any therapist with a hidden agenda could subconsciusly steer the therapeutic process in virtually any direction.  This is especially true where hypnosis or quasi-hypnotic techniques are employed.  Incidently, any method which emphatically claims to be non-hypnotic probably is just that.

There is alot of tacit suggestion going on in these special relationships.  Otherwise, how can be we account for the fact that Freudian clients report typically Freudian dreams, Jungian clients get Jungian dream content, and other clients automatically conforms to the form of therapy they are pursuing.

With these obvious influences in motion, there is a tremendous responsibility on the part of the so-called guide to maintain an unbiased attitude toward the phenomenology of the client, even while having to choose some basic assumptions and modalities within which to work.

Literalism is the main trap which lies within the experiential reports of therapeutic subjects.  Therapy can be done in the historical dimension, but it is fraught with the danger of misinformation which can be incorporated into memory and self image, creating different adjustment problems than assumptions about original experience.

The practitioner who takes this material literally and historically may have failed to see through to the metaphysical nature of thee imaginal journeys.  It is metaphysical only in the sense that its reality extends beyond that of the concrete and wholly physical.

Pathologizing to a greater or lesser extent is part of the subtext of all of our lives.  Pathologizing, according to James Hillman, reveals "the psyche's autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective."  Thus, the abductee finds his life framed within this twisted model of reality.

Pathologizing is not necessarily "sick."  These imaginal elaborations or distortiions of inner and outer life speak to us in a metaphorical language.  It is not obsessed with Why?  What?  How?  and Who?  James Hillman hass suggested that they are healing fictions, whose essence we absorb by moving more fully into them.

Mystery is the alternative to literalism.  Truth comes to us in veiled, symbolic form.  This mystery is not a different class of events than literal events, but those literal events are regarded differently, rather than narrowing their multiple ambiguity of meanings into a single definition.

By "sticking to the image," more is to be revealed than by defining, interpreting, translating, or concretizing it.  Rather, it calls for elaboration, amplification, deepening.  The image itself is the best guide to processing experience any therapist can offer.

Deep journeys into these images, like any voyage of discovery, repeat the mythic cycle of the heroic quest.  There is a parallel between the phases of the heroic quest and the process of personal transformation encountered in therapy.  It is a cycle of departure and return which is a metaphor for the growth and maturation of the ego in it spiritual quest.

Waking dreams can be approached by letting the dreamer choose an image that opens the work and leads the way.  The guide does not lead, but rather follows the experiencer's process to their own definition of satisfaction, their own sense of flow and closure for the session.

Yet, the guide must lead into and through places of fear and pain because that is essential for transformation or healing.  It is the guide's responsibility to provide a sense of safety and trust while the experiencer navigates the stream of consciousness.  The guide encourages staying within the flow of ever-transforming imagery, while deepening the process.

Watkins (1978) cautions us that, "We cease to discover to allow ourselves to be open invention and suggestion.  We fall into the mistaken habit of doing the right thing in the wrong place.  What makes the guide so needed in our culture--our ignorance of the imaginal--also makes the notions of guide and guiding particularly dangerous.  A way of moving in imaginal space or being with threatening image are more eagerly accepted and welcomed as the way.  Once this process begins we can all too easily find outselves dealing with an unknown as if it were a known."

"We cease to discover or allow outselves to be open to invention and suggestion.  We fall into the mistaken habit of doing the right thing in the wrong place because we treat a unique image as a stereotyped one.  The subtlety of relation that we could discover with each different image is thereby lost, and the imaginal is homogenized with our good intentions and psychological technocracy."

She continues with her concerns:  "the prejudices and misunderstandings we have that keep us away from the imaginal must be clarified, so that we have some way to begin a relation to the imaginal; and that we do not take our manner of relating for granted and, in so doing, unknowingly obscure the imaginal's reality.  For just as oon as one tries to be helpful and set down "how" one might go about doing womething, a mexture of good and evil is evoked.  The evil lies in the fact that every way to do something may tacitly exclude other ways which might reveal other things."

Her cautionary note continues:  "We must get in the habit of questioning and requestioning what each of us is saying about the imagination in order to discover the assumptions which abscure by their mere presence."

"Once one can remain with the image (whether it comes from a waking dream, dream, or one's activities, thoughts, or feelings) the image itself can teach and disclose its nature and its world through its own being.  Our listening to it (in ways that its nature, not our theory call for) develops a sensitivity in us towards the imaginal, so that its movement and echoes in life can be more readily and truly felt and followed."

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