UFO Conjectures

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Roswell Memory Mess


Copyright 2010, InterAmerica, Inc.

Debate continues here and elsewhere about witness testimony regarding the Roswell incident [sic] and other UFO episodes.

Related accounts at the time and, more importantly, later – much later in some instances – have to be tempered by all the psychological caveats for memory.

The literature is extensive, but not accessed by ufologists (which isn’t surprising, as ufologists generally are inept at researching what they perceive as tangential to their preconceived notions) and, along with their inadequate training in appropriate academic disciplines, the matter of memory failure is shunted aside or disregarded altogether.

But it is clear to psychologists, neurologists, and those in the legal profession (lawyers, prosecutors, judges, et al.) that witness testimony has to be corroborated by something more than circumstantial elements. That is, memory alone cannot and should not be the sole arbitrator in matters of serious consequence.

The mental acuity of every person is subject to a diversity of things including physiological debilities, associative history (from childhood onward), memory disorder,1 and something we call the Smiley Blanton Syndrome, predefined by F. C. Bartlett in his book Remembering [Cambridge University Press, 1932]:

"[Bartlett] has demonstrated that the content of what has been previously acquired in ordinary experience may be radically altered when remembered…It is his argument that the individual tends to incorporate new items a mental ‘schema’ so that remembering is ‘an imaginative reconstruction, or construction, built out of the relation of our attitude towards a whole active mass of organized past reactions or experience…"2

Ernst Jones also discussed “memory replacement” in his Papers on Psycho-Analysis, (4th Edition, Wood, Baltimore 1938)3

The processes of memory may be afflicted by neural maladies including simple forgetfulness all the way to dementia. The “memory trace” or neurogram (engram) can be disoriented by brain modifications or diseases of the nervous system, as outlined in Psychology [4th Edition, Norman L. Munn, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston 1961, Page 451 ff.]

Repression also needs to be determined, as many Roswellians, according to Anthony Bragalia (See material in archives here), were affected psychologically (and physiologically) by their association with the Roswell story and may have resorted to the neurotic escape of suppressing what they experienced, in reality or in fantasy. (See The Psychology of Adjustment, 2nd Edition, Laurance Frederic Shaffer and Edward Joseph Shoben, Jr., Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1956, Page 236 ff.)

Then there is “memory error” or confabulation where, unable to recall exact events or details, persons manufacture something that seems appropriate.4

None of the things mentioned here have been taken into account, for the Roswell witnesses or witnesses to other UFO sightings and events.

Until the memory matter is clarified, which is possible for some still-living Roswell witnesses, their accounts and remembrances remain suspect.

N.B. See also sciconrev.org/category/cognition/

1 Symptoms of Psychopathology: A Handbook, Edited by Charles G. Costello, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. NY, 1970, Page 95 ff.

2 A Dictionary of the Social Sciences, Edited by Julius Gould and William L. Kolb, The Free Press, NY, 1964, Page 422

3 Psychiatric Dictionary, 4th Edition, Edited by Leland E. Hinsie, M.D. and Robert J. Campbell, M.D., Oxford University Press, London, 1970, Page 189

4 Psychology Today, CRM Books, Del Mar, California, 1970, Page 360


  • It's an interesting and important topic: the viability and reliability of long term witnesses.

    But I'm not sure that in a field that has evolved as quickly and profoundly as clinical psychology, that the most recent reference you quote should be 40 years old, from a time when the field was *still* in it's infancy.

    I'm concerned that your premise might not only run counter to modern psychological and psychiatric thought, but also that the fundamental ideas you use have been superseded by experiment and current clinical practice.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Saturday, September 11, 2010  

  • Anon:

    The current literature bolsters the argument I present, and that's why I added an important link for those who wish to peruse the topic.

    I'll also be providing a slew of recent papers in the matter, upcoming.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Saturday, September 11, 2010  

  • The argument Anonymous brings up is ultimately moot. How reliable memory is doesn't change the necessity that such extraordinary claims be supported by solid, physical proof. In guaging the verisimilitude of any witness statement, psychology - especially as it relates to recall - is extremely handy, and often undervalued. However, it is only a place to start and a tool to weed out less credible tales. At the end of the day, anecdotal evidence cannot replace physical proof. Stories are either great entertainment or a jumping off point for further inquiry.

    By Blogger Cullan Hudson, at Saturday, September 11, 2010  

  • Thanks you Cullan,

    That is the essential point I was trying to make.

    It all boils down to what tangible evidence one brings to the table.

    All the memory in the world can't replace hard-core evidence.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Saturday, September 11, 2010  

  • I think, instead, the discipline an interviewer should have is how to take an oral history. It is not the interviewer's job to critique or analyze the statements of the interviewed, but to record them with forensic accuracy after establishing having established a good environment for taking an oral history.

    Besides that, I'd recommend to those still doing Roswell interviews to avoid at all costs the apparatus of taking "statements" and "testimony" from "witnesses" and procuring a "signed affidavit".

    Clinical psychology of whatever variant is useless in the case of the Roswell dead (which is about everybody). Because people have psychologies, not texts and that is all we have.

    Agreeing with you that many Roswell interviewers not only were not trained in the discipline they practiced, but they didn't even know what discipline they were practicing, it means that one cannot accept at face value the texts. And that means the discipline needed is text criticism because before you can analyse the interviews statements you have to clear out the detritus left by the interviewer.

    And, unless you have an autograph text (and especially not some document from the world wide web) you can not even be sure any other copy (except a photocopy) is accurate. Not knowing the circumstances of the interview you know nothing about how it went. One hopes to assume the text in quotes is accurate, but attributed statements (he said that...) will contain language of the interviewer.

    Newspapers and other publications are awful sources, as well.

    So, text criticism or to be blunt: learn to read.


    By Blogger Sourcerer, at Sunday, September 12, 2010  

  • Don,

    Psychology and the neurological sciences merely tell us that the mind is fallible.

    Interviewing techniques are another matter altogether.

    Paul Kimball has addressed this at one of his blogs:


    And I'll be putting forward here a monograph about the flaws of interviewing, that "ufologists" made and continue to make.

    And you are right: original (unsullied) texts are primary, which is something that Anthony Bragalia seeks out, and presents here.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, September 12, 2010  

  • Re: the "Roswell Memory mess"

    If I may add my words of wisdom.
    Roswell witness testimony only began, as you know, in 1979. This is the great drawback. Where is all the testimony before 1979? If the event was so earth-shattering, as Anthony Bragalia, and others, would have us believe, is it really conceivable that nothing was ever publicly said, or written down, in the intervening years? As Gilles has pointed out, where are the diaries of the participants, the photos, even possibly the small pieces of hardware of this strange craft?

    We can assume the first interviews contained some genuine recall, plus some imaginary recall. We have no record or transcript of these interviews. We can assume all the people had, during the intervening 30 years, become familiar with certain aspects of ufology, through books, films & TV. So yes, the early interviews are the most important. All further ones (repeats) are of less value and I would claim that those conducted later still are of steadily decreasing value to investigators. Ultimately their testimony becomes next to worthless.

    I wish Tony would realise this and cease accepting, without critical analysis, the testimony of these people, whether first, second or third hand. Example: Can you say with certainty whether sheriff Wilcox did (or did not) go out to the crash area? On what grounds do you base your opinion?
    I put it to you (and Tony) that if you analyse ALL the testimony and evidence in the literature, it is impossible to arrive at a final answer to this. He left no notes whatever, the contemporary press accounts omit any such story, and the post-1979 second-hand accounts differ. We are permanently stuck.

    The same can be said about other aspects of the event - too much to go into here. As for statements from any witnesses that "these were beings from another world"
    what use is this? NONE of these people had or have any idea of what a true alien being looks like, as no such thing is known to science. So why does Tony accept such nonsensical testimony? Does Tony know what an ET looks like, and if so how did he acquire this knowledge?

    Tony has done a good deal of investigating, but has he really added much to the story as given by other writers? He has a clearly stated bias. He puts in emphasis in odd places. The 'original' story by Inez (when was it actually written?) is useful but no more. Presumably it is an honest account of the life of a sheriff's wife in the south-west during the late 1940s, but I strongly suspect (but cannot prove) that titbits on the Roswell crash were added much later. They are not contemporary notes, so once again we are left in darkness. Do they add to the Roswell tale? A little perhaps, but nothing more.

    We need, more than ever, something truly original and genuine, dating from 1947, preferably in writing and illustrated, to add real weight to the alleged story of this remarkable event.

    I now challenge someone to produce it.

    By Blogger cda, at Sunday, September 12, 2010  

  • Greetings,

    Yep Christopher.

    I'm translating in english some extracts of my book relative and adressing the same questions more or less, and regarding some recent memory researches in cognitive psychology.

    Of course, dont panic ! With the help of a friend who have better english knowledge I have.

    Then, probably this week, I will submit it to the peer-review team of RRRGroup (^^) in order, if they accept, to have an article here in order to share resources.

    Very best regards,

    Gilles F.

    By Blogger Gilles. F., at Sunday, September 12, 2010  

  • "Psychology and the neurological sciences merely tell us that the mind is fallible." -- RRRGroup

    So do our daily lives and our experience with our own memory and of those close to us.

    Above I took issue with the language of ET advocates ("testimony", "signed affidavits", and so on). I think the language of ET skeptics regarding memory is inappropriate as well:"Contamination", "tainted", "bias", "false" this and that,"falsifications", various "suggestibilities"

    Some of these words have negative connotations (at least in American English) and some can be dreadful. They are not neutral or objective, and are sometimes deployed with sadistic glee in hot debates.

    Some of the language of both advocates and skeptics resembles police procedure, interrogation, prosecution, trial and judgement.

    A distinction has to be made between 'memory' and 'recollection'. One is a language event. What I see on forums is language and narrative are commonly regarded as "memory". Memory is not a language event. Constructing a narrative instantiated by memory is. Understanding the construction of a specific instance of narrative--a Roswell "witnesses" "testimony", for example, requires being well informed about and attentive to the nuances, glosses, and aporias of narrative language. Psychological insight is necessary, but deploying it to render judgement is just a variety of what used to be called "Cocktail Party Psychoanalysis", or to give it a contemporary name "pseudoscience".

    Some years ago in a thread on the same subjects, memory, the RAAF press release, I noted some things both -- I'll call them -- the lead skeptic and the lead advocate agreed on. Their posts indicated that: the press release mentioned the debris field, that the rancher had found the disk the previous week, that the rancher had told Sheriff Wilcox, that Wilcox told Major Marcel, that Major Marcel went to the ranch and picked up the disk and inspected it at the air field. I made a post about it.

    Were their memories false?

    One of them (I forget which) posted that although I was literally correct, they knew that's what the press release meant.

    A few weeks ago I was doing some searching on the web and read the websites of both a skeptic and an advocate. They each had the text of the press release.

    One had this: "The many rumors regarding the flying disks..."

    The other had this: "The Intelligence Officer of the 509th [...] was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disk..."

    Were these false memories? Falsifications? I think they are revealing slips -- 'Freudian slips', not a memory issue. Is there any doubt which slip was the skeptic's and which the advocate's?


    By Blogger Sourcerer, at Sunday, September 12, 2010  

  • Don,

    For some of us, the Roswell memory banks or recollections, if you like -- not the testimony immediate to the event (which CDA doesn't see anyhwere until after the Friedman work of the late 70s) -- is not suitable as evidence,
    bona fide evidence.

    Every recounting of things experienced is damaged by input, old and new.

    That is, the arrangement of perceptions is muddled by any number of attending "engrams" as one tome put it.

    The human mind is awash in data and material accumulated over periods of short and long times -- often burdened by trauma (psychological and physical), or episodes of pain or even joy, and all the other experiences, real or imagined one has been subject to.

    Any recall of an event, even immediate to that event, is cluttered by neurological intrusions from the past -- even a past that is only seconds old.

    Gilles F may deal with this in an upcoming post here.

    I'll be dealing with the matter again, soon, also.

    But I think Cullan Hudson's comment here needs attention.

    His call for tangible evidence rather than hearsay or testimony goes to the heart of the Roswell controversy.

    CDA would agree I'm sure. I know Nick Redfern feels that way also.

    Anthony Bragalia also feels likewise, and is trying to find that tangible evidence from the witness testimony he has acquired.

    While I think the witness testimony is inherently flawed, I do think that there may be clues in that testimony -- clues that will appear, sometimes subliminally, in diverse renderings by the Roswell witness accounts.

    One only has to be sharp and perceptive to ferret out such clues.

    Old-time ufologists (the UFO geezers) have been remiss in such endeavors, and that has left a foul taste in some mouths, (CDA's for instance).

    But eventually, someone like Mr. Bragalia will strike gold, even from the welter of mish-mash that has been "witness testimony" so far in the Roswell renderings.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, September 12, 2010  

  • While it's true that physical evidence is the most important kind, the importance of reliable witness evidence cannot be overstated. And a position that only over considers physical evidence, is not one, imho, that is ever made in good faith, and is ultimately lazy and unhelpful. It's skepticism without the courage of one's convictions.

    I'd also point out that even in the U.S of A, witness evidence is considered reliable enough to condemn people to the death penalty for murder, even without the presence of a victim's corpse. Obviously, if that evidence wasn't strong or reliable enough, it wouldn't be admissible, because 100,000 defense lawyers would see to that.

    But getting back to the point: why the issue about pre-1970 references? 2 reasons.

    Firstly, the use of outdated reference material is a common device used by less ethically sound members of our larger community (Farrell, Von Daniken, Marrs, etc...) to mislead readers into accepting a particular line of thought. Giving y'all the benefit of the doubt in this case, but consider it my obligation to raise a red flag. S'all.

    Secondly, because these methods deal directly with the heart of the problems in modern ufology, ie. reliability of evidence. If the people of this site want to move beyond the contributions of the Friedmans and Randles, this is an area that requires a lot of attention.

    IMHO, the "moral" obligation of the ufo researcher faced with a lack of physical evidence, but a number of witnesses, is to gather what information can be collected, and follow the paths and lines of enquiry those reports might lead to.

    This is why I view Corso as important.. not so much what he said, but the fact that it encouraged a number of researchers to dig far deeper and wider into government research than they might have otherwise done. No physical evidence yet, but as Bragalia has discovered, a number of tantalizing leads to proxy evidence, which may in turn reveal what we're all hoping to find.

    So, faced with a data source that is at best noisy, and at times unreliable, it is important to have at hand state of the art techniques that allow researchers to clearly define the bounds, reliability and veracity of their evidence. That state of the art, by definition, requires a present day context.

    At the end of the day, I agree that we're still going to need physical evidence (or at least a proxy for it), but witness evidence is the only way we're ever going to make progress in that direction.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Monday, September 13, 2010  

  • Anon:

    Thanks for the comment(s).

    But if you're familiar with the literature, you know that the material footnoted here remains viable.

    And that link to a cognitive psychology site that is current and full of supplemental information for you (and others) may be helpful.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, September 13, 2010  

  • Beyond the veracity of the witnesses statements, there is a range that runs in a spectrum from fabrication to embellishment as you well pointed out, as well as the fact that their employer has given three different versions of the same scenario, all of which have been discredited, all of which have contradicted one another, much like the witness testimony of the fourth version. So, we have four versions of the same story. Add Nick Redfern's theory and we have five.So we have the diffusion of plots, motives and opportunities much like the Kennedy assassination or in the more prosaic world, we have five crashes of airliners never to be solved, or the mysterious death of Yuri Gagarin, or the loss of cosmonauts that seem still to be buried. All of which are very cold cases, much like Roswell. Or, Jack The Ripper. At some point someone has to admit, the likelihood of this being solved by evidence is nil, as a matter of common sense.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Monday, September 13, 2010  

  • Bruce:

    I couldn’t agree with you more.


    Mr. Bragalia, and a few other legitimate UFO researchers, have some information, forthcoming sooner than later, that will be dynamic and confirming of the Roswell scenario that ET believers are attached to.

    I’m holding my breath in the matter, not skeptical of the “flying saucer crashed in Roswell” headline, but hesitant to say that the thing that crashed was extraterrestrial.

    But I think the new information may force me to take a refreshed look at Roswell.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, September 13, 2010  

  • I agree with your caveat, and as I have said before one cannot help but admire Tony's persistence in pushing himself and this case upstream. In the case of Jack The Ripper, amazingly, new information and theories still surface that provide very provocative, albeit circumstantial evidence, that has narrowed the field of potential perpetrators significantly. I look at this case in context of the former head of the KGB and President of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, who was no fantasy prone individual, who kept an extremely focused eye on this phenomenon. One would love to see the file entrusted to the ex-cosmonaut, Pavel Popvich. However, the file has vanished without a trace. A mystery within an enigma, as always.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Monday, September 13, 2010  

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