Five items appear below:

1    The Australian Skeptics' Guide to Alien Encounters    S. Bockner
2    Reply to Dr Bockner                                                         Bob Potter
3    Reply to Dr Potter                                                             S. Bockner
4    Dr Bockner’s ‘Dated’ Source Material                           Bob Potter

5    "Hysteria" — A Term Regularly Used                             S. Bockner

The Australian Skeptics’ guide to Alien Encounters

Sydney Bockner

(Investigator 87, 2002 November)

Imagine awakening in the dead of night to hear padding footsteps in your bedroom. You have a sense of a malevolent presence in the room, and you may hear breathing. Even more frightening, you find yourself paralysed, unable to move a muscle. The footsteps seem to approach you, then you feel someone or something touching your body. Light fingertip pressure moves over your chest, abdomen, genitals. You are still motionless, except for your breathing. Try as you might you cannot open your eyes or move your limbs. You may experience a strange sensation of levitation. Then all goes blank. You awaken a little later, able to move normally. The room is silent and dark.

This strange phenomenon is due to a neurological condition called sleep paralysis. Russell Brain (1947) describes it as the outcome of a failure of the uniform spread of sleep over the nervous system levels concerned with consciousness remain awake when the motor and postural levels have fallen asleep, or conversely are awakening before them.

In an article on sleep Russell Brain (1939) describes the condition as a splitting of function of the sleep center in the brain, with the body asleep and the mind awake. This unequal distribution of sleep was described by physicist Paul Davies as "Lucid dreaming".

The condition is not usually due to organic disease of the brain, although it may occur in lesions of the posterior part of the hypothalamus (Mayer-Gross, Slater, & Roth, 1955).

The neurosurgeon Cairns (1942) includes the condition in the disturbances of consciousness with lesions of the brain stem and diencephalon.

Hallucinations (false sensations without an external stimulus) occur in this condition, and they are often elaborate and terrifying. The night terrors of childhood appear to be of a similar nature. The sensation of one's body being palpated and examined, and the sounds of footsteps and breathing are hallucinations. This hallucinatory state is the result of a dissociation of consciousness, akin to dreaming when the subject is partially awake, known as hypnagogic hallucinations. It may be noted that the condition is the converse of somnambulism (sleep walking). In this latter condition the conscious mind is asleep, while motor control in the brain is awake.

In sleep paralysis the subject is awake but there is some clouding of consciousness. This may result in irrational thinking. In the light of day the majority of subjects will dismiss these ideas. But a few more imaginative persons may elaborate and rationalise their night experience.

Thus the concept of alien encounters arises, particularly in view of the media hype on this subject.

The terrifying paralysis may be rationalised as the alien's ability to immobilise the human subject to allow him to be examined. In the dream-like state the subject may include alien abduction, particularly in view of the sensation of levitation. Some subjects report that aliens create a mental block causing amnesia. According to South Australian UFO enthusiast Colin Norris "Aliens can cloud the minds of humans". In this clouded or amnesic state some subjects may believe that they were abducted, examined and experimented upon. Aliens, it seems have a penchant for experimentation on humans, especially in the sexual sphere (pun intended).

Thus disorders of the mechanism of sleep may account for some of the myths of alien adventures.


Brain, R. W. (1947) – Diseases of the Nervous System, 3rd Ed. 861-862.
Brain, R. W. (1939) – British Medical Journal, II, 51.
Mayer-Gross, W., Slater, E., Roth, M. (1955) – Clinical Psychiatry, Cassell, London, p. 13.
Cairns, H. (1942) – Brain 75, 109, 439-440.


Bob Potter

(Investigator 88, 2003 January)

Sydney Bockner's suggested "neurological explanations" of Alien Encounters (Investigator #87) would have benefited from the use of more recent research.

Three studies are strongly recommended to interested readers:

1) The Hallucinations of Widowhood, by W Dewi Rees British Medical Journal (1971, 4, 37-41) reports a study of nearly 300 people, representing more than 94% of widowed people resident in mid-Wales. Almost a half hallucinated the presence of the dead spouse, most frequently during the first ten years of bereavement. Social isolation was not a factor and both sexes were equally affected. There was no relationship to depressive illness nor to any cultural background.

The incidence of hallucination tended to increase after the age of 40 years, was a pleasurable experience, and was strongly associated with a long and happy marriage. The hallucinations are considered normal and helpful accompaniments of widowhood.

2) The Story of Ruth by Morton Schatzman is available in Penguin (1982).

Schatzman's patient claimed to be able to hallucinate whenever she wished. Her claims were tested in the research laboratories of London's St Thomas's Hospital and involved asking her to hallucinate visually and aurally whilst connected to EEG and/or electroretinographic machinery. Richard Gregory, whose many academic texts on the psychology of perception will be familiar to readers, was one of the many eminent scientists involved in this research which found that Ruth could indeed "hallucinate to will".

3) Without question, the book that must be studied, by those who are interested to know what modern research might tell us concerning "the architecture of the mind", is Phantoms in the Brain by V S Rarmachandran & Sandra Blakeslee published by Fourth Estate London (1998). The book comes with the recommendations of Francis Crick and Oliver Sacks who wrote the introduction. The authors are in the business of helping people with problems (like phantom limbs, etc.), and offer interesting suggestions of the origins (and usefulness) of superstitions, belief in gods and so on.


Sydney Bockner

(Investigator 89, 2003 March)

Bob Potter, apparently, is unaware of the difference between hallucinations and pseudo hallucinations (Investigator No. 88). True hallucinations occur in psychoses such as schizophrenia and organic reactions (e.g. delirium). In these conditions the patient is unaware that the voices or visions originate in his or her own mind. He finds it unbelievable that the voice he hears so clearly does not originate from some outside source. This is known as loss of insight, and is a characteristic feature of a psychosis.

Pseudo hallucinations occur occasionally in hysteria, a neurosis. There is full insight, with full understanding that the "voice" originates in one's own mind. It is akin to day dreaming when one may "hear" (imagine) someone speaking, or "see" a picture in one's mind. This is fully under self control and is self induced, as for example in the so called hallucinations of widowhood. It is interesting to note that in both true hallucinations and pseudo hallucinations brain imaging reveals cerebral activity in auditory and visual centres.


Bob Potter

(Investigator 90, 2003 May)

What a pity Sydney Bockner (Investigator 89, p.4) did not take the trouble to look at the article in the British Medical Journal, "The Hallucinations of Widowhood", to which I referred. Had he done so, he would have seen the researcher took great pains to eliminate "pseudo" experiences:
"Particular care was taken in assessing the statements of those who reported hallucinatory experiences. Only those who did not rationalize the experience — for instance, by saying that they had seen the deceased in 'their mind's eye' — were listed as being hallucinated. If there was any doubt about the reality of the experience a nil response was recorded. Experiences occurring in bed at night, other than those occurring immediately after retirement, were discounted and recorded as dreams."
(BMJ, 1971, 4 p.39).
Relevant bereaved individuals with whom I have myself spoken certainly do not fall into Sydney's category of having "full understanding that the 'voice' originates in one's own mind ... akin to day dreaming". (Investigator 89, p.4) On the contrary, they fervidly believe they have evidence of 'survival after death'!

I have earlier referred to Sydney's 'dated' source material. His use of the term 'hysteria' is yet another example of this. For at least thirty years, editions of  "Bible of Psychiatric Medicine", the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (most recent I have seen being 1994) do not give a specific listing for the dated concept 'hysteria'. Rather distinguishable categories — e.g. 'conversion disorder', 'somatization disorder'...




S. Bockner

(Investigator 91, 2003 July)

In Investigator No. 90 Bob Potter is mistaken in dismissing "hysteria" as a dated term.

Hysterical Neurosis is one of the major neuroses and the term is regularly used today by practising psychiatrists. The term hysteria acquired a stigma and is often used as a word of abuse to describe extravagant, hystrionic behaviour. In view of this, DSM IV, the internationally used diagnostic manual of mental disorders (1994) classified hysteria under its many clinical manifestations, avoiding the term hysteria. However DSM IV still recognizes the term as the generic cover for all the groups. Thus DSM IV Source Book (1994) devotes a complete chapter to hysterical neurosis under the heading Hystrionic Personality Disorders.

ICD 10 (1993), the other major classification source has adopted the same measures. Furthermore, most of the major textbooks of medicine include chapters on Hysterical Neurosis. As an example, the widely used textbook Clinical Medicine by Kumar & Clark (1998) includes a chapter headed Hysterical Neurosis & Personality, and shows a table headed Common Hysterical Symptoms.


1)    DSM IV 
American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Washington DC.
2)    DSM IV Source Book, APA (1994) Vol. 2 p733 744 Washington DC.
3)    ICD-10 World Health Organization (1993) Classification of Mental & Behavioural Disorders, Geneva, WHO.
4)    Clinical Medicine 
Kumar & Clark (1998), Balliere Tindall, p979 980 London.