UFO Conjecture(s)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations, and UFOs


A New Yorker article, in the 8/27/12 issue, by Oliver sacks, entitled “Altered States” is about the eminent neurologist’s use of drugs in his early years [Page 40 ff.].

As an Oliver Sack fan, I found the article disturbing: a man I admire was a pot-head and worse during his formative career years?

Setting aside Sacks’ extended confessional, The piece provides some neurological insights and truths that impact (or clarify) my views on why some (some!) UFO sightings and encounters may be attributable to neurological glitches in some witnesses.

Dr. Sacks notes this about migraine headaches, a common affliction among some of the human population:

“[Sacks] was fascinated by the range of symptoms and phenomena that could occur in migraine attacks. These attacks often included an aura, a prodome in which aberrations of perception and even hallucinations occurred. They were entirely benign and would last only a few minutes. [Page 47]

“….lasts only a few minutes.” (Important)

Using chloral hydrate to help him sleep, he related this incident at a coffee shop he frequented on his way to work:

“As I was stirring the coffee, It suddenly turned green then purple. I looked up startled, and saw that a customer  paying his bill at the cash register had a huge proboscidean head….Panic seized me; I…ran across the road to a bus…all the passengers on the bus seemed to have smooth white heads like giant eggs, with huge glittering eyes like the faceted compound eyes of insects…” [Italics, mine; Page 46]

He came to realize that he was hallucinating or experiencing some bizarre perceptual disorder.

When he stopped taking the Chloral Hydrate, he had withdrawal symptoms and a case of DTs (delirium tremens) – the after-effects that alcoholics suffers (and which was delineated in he classic movie, Lost Weekend, with Ray Milland.)
DTs’ produce images of insects, rodents (bats and mice), and other creatures, along with the shakes and debilitating behavior.

Sacks recounts an episode where he greets an old family friend, a psychoanalyst but thinks the friend is a duplicate, not the real person he knew….a replica.

She diagnosed the incident as a form of defense, a disassociation that was psychotic in nature and which he likened, upon reflection, as a bout of schizophrenia, dementia, or delirium known as Capgras syndrome. [Page 44]

Sacks used LSD, marijuana, and other chemicals for escape and sometimes as a sop to his curiosity about how the brain works. (The latter not so much in those formative years.)

His addiction to amphetamines has ceased he writes.

While this written mea culpa is disturbing to me, as a fan of Sacks writings, the article does provide grist to the ideas suggested here: that some UFO sightings and (especially) UFO encounters may stem from neurological bouts induced by drugs, some food stuffs, and/or just a physiological glitch in the brain, that is temporary usually.

Not all UFO accounts may be so based, but some surely are.

And I suggest that some of you who visit here and embark on criticism of the possibility of a neurological explanation for some UFO events, hie yourself to the neurological literature.

Then you may be able to opine in an intellectual way, rather than in an emotional, unread way, as the rabble responds to suggestions that quiver their belief systems.



  • Sacks may be only touching the tip of the "iceberg." I wrote a blog article highlighting Kluver-Bucy Syndrome,a rare pathological vehicle, that affects the amygdala causing visual agnosia.

    Based on previous work on my ward, a small percentage of the patient population with various forms of late stage dementia, appear to have agnosia.

    This may, in some cases, explain the odd visual distortions of the bizarre cases. Not that the experiencer has dementia, but has been exposed to some environmental element that induces a form of visual agnosia causing visual misperception.

    By Blogger Tim Hebert, at Saturday, August 25, 2012  

  • The visual agnosia, Tim, brought on by "some environmental element" goes to the heart of Bruce Duensing's thinking.

    Maybe he'll elaborate.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Saturday, August 25, 2012  

  • My own theory has to do with transience and the environment. In other words, the vast majority of witnesses to close encounters ( in particular) have no history of serial hallucinations. On the contrary, some of the most ridiculous narratives come from sober minded individuals, not the organically challenged.
    It seems that bio-neurology must be a linkage in a relationship with unusual environmental circumstances, as a predisposition of setting. High localized ambient energy fields seem to be a trigger. While there does seem to be some circumstantial linkage to "ghost sightings" ( some 13-14 common elements) we tend to categorize all this by image type.
    My point is whether you see a boat or a plane or a human being that isn't there, it statistically makes more sense that a common root is there in neurology and the environment. Magnesium as a source element seems to fit and yet not fit ( in a coherent theory) as playing a major role. Where it fits is luminosity, ground trace elements, second or third degree burns, crop circle trace elements,and plays a major role in biology specifically, in neurology via nervous cell communication.
    The closer one gets, the stranger all this becomes without the role of any extraterrestrial.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Sunday, August 26, 2012  

  • I once criticized Bruce on another site because his writing had gotten so obtuse I couldn’t understand what he was trying to communicate. Of late, he has produced some of the most focused, thoughtful, and lucid commentary on the UFO phenomenon anywhere on the Web. I retract my earlier criticism.

    Having often had vaguely similar thoughts about the UFO phenomenon (leaning toward visible plasma phenomena), I agree with Bruce’s reasoning here.

    By Blogger purrlgurrl, at Sunday, August 26, 2012  

  • Yes, PG, Bruce often provides an intellectual thicket, which we have to fight our way through.

    But if one can fathom his thinking, there is much of value in it.

    Let's hope he stays on the concise, cogent side of commentary.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Sunday, August 26, 2012  

  • Rich what's a way of finding out what's at the bottom of a pond?

    Stir it up with a stick and see what floats to the surface.

    This's the method they're currently using on Mars except the stick's a laser and the pond's Martian rocks.

    It's also the method they're suddenly starting to realise's long been neglected in neurology thanks to a blanket prohibition on drugs like LSD.

    It also seems like the reason why Oliver Sacks's long had an insight into people seeing weird stuff's precisely because once upon a time he used chemical sticks to stir up the contents of his own brains.

    And this's a long and venerable method of research. Even Barry Marshall only won acceptance of and the Nobel Prize for his decade long 'discredited' insight bacteria can cause cancer by injecting himself with the stuff.

    The joke of it is people set great store by 'normal' perceptions but the fact the majority of people have them only conceals the simple truth they're as hallucinatory in their own way as Sack's most extreme visions.

    I was once told by an art teacher I'd drawn a vase and the wall in the background wrong. When I turned the vase upside and traced the outline of its mouth everyone could immediately see it was a factory misshape. A setsquare showed not only was the wall not straight but the plasterer'd left bulges. In other words I'd drawn what I'd seen whereas he'd been wanting me to draw what he expected me to see.

    Video game makers and movie animators ran into exactly the same difficulty when their audiences rejected perfect faces. It was only when they made adjustments for the fact the eyes and other elements of human faces are actually quite remarkably misaligned and poorly symmetrical and the human brain unconsciously adjusts our faces' crookedness until they seem normal they were finally able to put out product acceptable to their audiences.

    We do the same thing when we look at our parents for the umpteenth time but suddenly notice how considerably they've aged. In other words we've been filtering out their actual faces for a model in our head.

    Even when Sacks sees his coffee turn purple then green if we all were prone to that condition we'd think that was how coffee was supposed to appear.

    And even when people see coffee as it's 'supposed' to look that's just another hallucination because most people think they're looking at something brown but as many an artist'll tell you not only is coffee a million different shades of brown but there's all manner of other colours reflected in there not to mention light effects and one's own face and any number of objects on the ceiling etc etc etc.

    As one who has spent decades reading the literature (for a time at university) I can state for a fact most of the neurological literature you refer to's actually only regurgitations of other researchers but even when it isn't it's records of people reporting actual experiences evaluated by the writers on the basis of whatever paradigms or models their universities've ingrained in them as credible. In other words just left UFO research if a detail doesn't suit an explanation's devise to justify disregarding it.

    And I know this from personal experience because when I was in my late teens at the end of the Seventies and I was trying to describe to a bunch of psychiatric and neurology people about the weird effects my body was undergoing all I got out of their ringleader most of the time was "Never heard of it! Never heard of it!"

    Forty years later though I note they finally have!

    By Blogger alanborky, at Monday, August 27, 2012  

  • Yes, Alan...

    It's the Jekyll/Hyde approach to research.

    It's a dangerous and iffy approach and usually produces little of practical value.

    (Timothy Leary's legacy is "proof" of that as is Sack's formative sojourn with drugs, LSD among them.)

    Whatever information is derived from such self-applied "testing" is compromised, because it produces subjective incursions into what should be objective observation.

    The methodology isn't scientific.

    It's ego-maniacal, as Robert Louis Stevenson's story informs us.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, August 27, 2012  

  • The strict literalism of UFO proponents reminds me of the biblical kind. Their analyses take place in a world without human agency or error.

    By Blogger Terry the Censor, at Sunday, September 02, 2012  

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