All in One Films: Transcripts

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David Hufford

COPYRIGHT CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION

DAVID HUFFORD

this is one of several kinds of sets of anomalies that in the last 20 years or so has moved kind of in this way near death experiences will be another example that have recruited serious professionals into the study but whether in the long run that creates a new set of sort of marginalized professionals like parapsychology which has still not broken through but managed to do that recruitment quite a while ago or whether it changes the consensus in the academic world I don't know but here we do see that the consensus in the sort of our civilization at large is definitely shifting toward more openness more acceptance of these things,

I think that the Ufologists occupy a position culturally that's much closer to and more influential on the popular mind than on the academic mind I guess we would have to say and that's natural because the academic world everything that goes into its intentional and unintentional isolation pushes the people interested in the anomalous things out and the only place to go out is into the regular world so publications tend to be carried more in the news media they tend to attract amateur interest more than professional interest etc.

if you look back at before abductions, before near death experiences to early in the 70's as people were beginning to look seriously at death and you look at Elizabeth Kubler Ross a professional who's credited by most people as really changing the medical and academic view of death as something that needed to be that would repay serious attention it was not anomalous at that point, but a change in focus. As she began to work on it and other professionals began to look into thanatology they also particularly Kubler Ross though began to report back anomalous findings strange things and to say this is different from what we've always thought it was like and for a while a lot of people though ah thanatology is going to sort of turn medicine and the academic world on its head with regard to death. It didn't happen and it turned Elizabeth Kubler Ross's career on its head and it's very hard to tell except in retrospect whether professionals who make that sort of move can bring their colleagues with them or even remain committed to bringing their colleagues with them or whether in fact they create a sort of a new alternative community.

as Thomas Kuhn the historian of scientific change has pointed out what he called and is now popularly thought of as a paradigm shift takes place the revolution is not so much accomplished by suddenly everybody falls into line, you get the pivotal changes and then over time the people who cannot be converted die. And the students being less invested in the old model and more open to new ideas tend to come along more and more in a new frame of mind so it takes a generation or so for those kinds of changes to be fully accomplished but in the academic world, it moves with glacial slowness.

SO WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT TO BRING TO THE DIALOGUE WHY ARE YOU HERE WHAT DO YOU WANT THEM TO HEAR FROM YOU?

Well in a general way I want them to hear that many of them who seem to be out in front in terms of getting a great deal of publicity are theoretically way out in front of their data and that they tend to have an excessively narrow point of view for a lot of reasons, I think it's understandable I think they're on to something I don't know what it is they're on to but I think there is something here to be explained and I think it's anomalous I think it's fascinating and I think it's important. But my work with what in Newfoundland is called the old hag and is called something else in every culture thoughout the world is implicated in this, and it gives us an interesting empirical anchor that's been overlooked in that we know a lot about the event that in Newfoundland is called the old hag that in medicine is called sleep paralysis, this is not a reductive explaining away I'm not saying oh it's not abduction, it's not this or that it's just sleep paralysis because sleep paralysis is extremely puzzling, and has consistently similar highly complex subjective contents wherever we find it around the world. It also is the case that the majority of what investigators today consider to be abduction cases begin with or at least involve repeated bedroom experiences that are indistinguishable on the basis of their recounting by the person who has them from sleep paralysis. In many many details and we now know that the prevalence of these is very high I pointed out as long ago as my book in 1982 that the prevalence of this event is far higher than the medical literature suggests, that it's on the order of somewhere between 16 to 25 percent depending on how you ask the question. A large survey aimed at what the investigator can say to be features associated with abduction just now completed finds 18 percent for awakening of the general population saying yes I have awakened at least once during the night unable to move in the presence of a strange visitor. The people in the abduction investigation community don't seem to appreciate the way that that bedroom event spreads out from abductions not only into other classes of strange experience but also has great historical deapth. A lot of abduction investigators wish to see or feel that they have evidence for this being recent phenomenon. I've documented these bedroom kinds of events with the same features back through millenia I have examples of them from many cultures all over the world from the high arctic to south america south east asia, africa, where have you and the contents are consistently similar. Not identical, there's a range as is true for all of the things that they associate with abduction, but this is one of many valances, hooks, roots that runs through this phenomenon and links to other things, and my message to them I guess would be don't be too hasty on closing your theories on this, don't specialize quite so much. I don't study abductions, but abductions swim through my data set all the time.

THEY DO I MEAN THOSE ARE ANCIENT I MEAN IN ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY ABDUCTIONS TOOK PLACE WHERE THERE WAS A FAIRY IN IRELAND OR THE OLD HAG IN NEWFOUNDLAND OR THE BOOGIE MAN -

That's right, now even of course some of the abductees that have spoken here have said we weren't abducted we weren't taken against our will we were asked and we said okay we'll go along with this, well there are also ancient and mediaeval sets of experience in which people say they come to us at night they wake us up they recruit us they say we are to join this group and we have to go out with them at night and we go out with them repeatedly at night and we train and then we have to do certain kinds of things that's a kind of recruitment in to a sort of occult organizations that have been described over the centuries, also, floating out of the room the way the abductees do.

it simply says this is more mysterious it's a larger mystery and it's part of the entire history and nature of the human experience and the UFologists need to look at that and I should add one of the things that they're missing, they don't appreciate the extent to which cultural forces vary the rate at which awareness of these events is salient within a cultural group so that as with child abuse, I'll make that analogy we used to think if child abuse as something that was rare, certainly in our culture, and when it was found it was only going to be found in certain parts of the culture, lower socioeconomic status and so on. Suddenly as we began to discover that child abuse was in fact prevalent and exceeded those demographic groups where we first found it the reporting changed tremendously all kinds of things changed the reporting and you had what looked like an exponential increase in child abuse, actually there may have been some increase in the events but what we were witnessing was an exponential increase in the reporting. When you see that whenever it happens this happens with efforts to estimate prevalence of many other kinds of medical conditions too, it's very hard to distinguish that change of reporting from a sudden shift in the prevalence of the event itself so when they look at we weren't hearing these things very much 20 years ago we didn't hear them at all 30 years ago they say this is becoming much much much more frequent and some of them project and say in the future it's going to become even more frequent. They don't know that because they have no evidence to distinguish the change in reporting from any possible change in the rates of the events.

BUT HAS THAT HAPPENED WITH EVERY INCIDENT I MEAN NOT JUST UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS, SAY FAIRIES IN IRELAND AGAIN, WOULD THERE HAVE BEEN A DEBATE THEN ABOUT WHETHER THEY WERE REAL ABOUT WHO WAS SEEING THEM AND WHAT IT WAS ALL ABOUT?

Well at times there were certainly debates after the reformation and the enlightenment even among the clergy say in the British Isles there were arguments about well are these things real if they are real is it alright for christians to be interested in them etc. and all those dynamics tended to increasingly stigmatize the reporting of experiences of fairies. Associated with that and the connotations of the word begin to change and the meanings of the word begin to change so after 1900 you begin to get the impression not only is fairy belief practically dead but the experiences that seem to support it don't happen any more. That's not true as far as I can tell. The experiences that in the 19th century are called encounters with fairies or children being abducted by fairies or people being courted and romanced by fairies happen as much today as they did then; they don't call them fairies any more because you're not supposed to do that in fact, until very recently people who had those experience didn't simply didn't tell anybody about them and let me add for you that this is not something that tells us that the incidence of psychosis is much greater than we ever would have guessed and that there are a lot of psychotic people who manage to walk around and fuction in the regular world. There is no basis for most of these things for associating these reports and the people who give them with any psychotic diagnosis other than the fact that they insist on the reality of things that a lot of other people can't accept but that as a basis for considering people insane is very poor diagnostic procedure, if you look at the specific features of psychotic diagnoses you don't find them for most of these people.

BUT THE REPORTING OF THE EVENTS AGAIN WHETHER IT'S ANCIENT OR MODERN SEEMS TO SAY MORE ABOUT THE SOCIETY THAN IT DOES ABOUT THE EVENT?

It does that's exactly right the reporting is constrained shaped and regulated by the society and it's always been assumed that the events were too because it was believed that all of these events were produced by the beliefs the values and the things that shape reporting.

BUT NOT JUST THE REPORTING THE WILLINGNESS TO TELL THE STORY IS ALSO SHAPED BY.

I'm counting that as part of reporting I mean if you know that your experience is going to be treated with derision and that you're going to be considered crazy if you insist on it you're not going to report you're not going to tell it to anybody. Or you're going to talk about it in very ambiguous language which we can also say people will talk about it using words like they'll say I had a dream referring to something they don't consider a dream that may not even have happened in any connection with sleep or lying in bed but then they can talk about it but they talk about it in a way that makes them safe but everything that makes them safe in talking about it removes the likelihood that anybody else is going to treat it as a serious report.

in fact in Newfoundland when I was there for 4 years in the early 70's it was really interesting to me that when what we would call a UFO flap would occur in Newfoundland all of the older people in the outports would talk about it but they would use the language they had always used to talk about it they would talk about ghost lights or weather lights or burning ships and the kids who knew what UFO's were would talk about UFOs. You look at the two accounts of the same kinds of experiences and you would have the impression that they were about completely different things. It doesn't mean that they'd had different experiences it means that they'd had diifferent language for them

A lot of people think that UFO's started to be seen in what was it 1949 when Ken Arnold made hi -

47 I THINK.

47. That's it. And some people still insist that that's the case, I don't think that's the case at all that was the birth of the term UFO it was not the birth of the siting of lights in the sky.

SO WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE OUT OF ALL OF THIS?

I'll tell you what to believe, Peter, believe that human experience is much much more diverse and complicated than the modern, academic view of normal human experience, much more. That that diverisity has within it patterns, that you can descriminate that must be meaningful they must be some kind of signal they are not all noise and they are clearly not all the product of cultural programming, that much is for sure. So diverse, broad, meaningful, not currently explained or understood and when you hear debunking of these things recognize that most debunders do not, they themselves have such a narrow empirical filter that they're not generally speaking familiar with most of the useful and interesting evidence so that there is a lot that's unknown. There's always been a lot that's unknown and a culture's values as they shift new kinds of things start to be known things that used to be known tend to get lost we're in that process now but I can't give you guidance on which ones you ought to take as personally real.

I WONDERED IF ONE OF THE PROBLEMS WE'RE HAVING WITH THIS IN TRYING TO DISCUSS AND PEOPLE JUST OVER KITCHEN TABLES DISCUSSING THIS IS THAT WE SEEM TO HAVE BEEN RAISED IN THE LAST WHILE WANTING SCIENCE TO GIVE US THE ANSWERS AND MAYBE THIS IS AN AREA WHERE SCIENCE CAN'T GIVE US THE ANSWERS AND WE HAVE TO BE OPEN TO AREAS THAT SCIENCE MIGHT NEGLECT OR SAY THIS IS SILLY OR THIS IS NOT TRUE.

It's not even just a matter of neglect. I agree with the thrust of your question and we do we have become somewhat smothered by science but that should not be a criticism of genuine science. When science is taken as the source of all answers to all things it's being misused. We don't need to get away from science we need to get away from misapplication of science and the overextension of scientific authority. We also have to get away from the idea that rational inquiry is necessarily always scientific in the sense of laboratory science or quantitative science. And because what we are talking about is not only open to but requires rational inquiry. But it doesn't necessarily require physics, maybe not chemistry I don't know how much sociology it requires so we need to be open to the possibility of different kinds of methodologies, but not a flight from reason, that's very important. And but it's very easy to see a lot of places where this is true in our society. Anybody who's ever suffered with intractable pain that was difficult to diagnose knows that they had a subjective experience that required maybe some scientific intervention but for which they couldn't provide scientific evidence sometimes

SO I MEAN IT'S FRUSTRATING FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT AN ANSWER.

Sure, it is. Well life is frustrating for people who want answers, and the most we can hope for as far as I can tell is enough answers to keep us going every day and what's reasonable to assume is a proper direction.

BUT THIS IS DIFFERENT FROM KNOWING WHEN WATER BOILS.

It sure is knowing when water boils is a lot easier, a lot easier, and human experience is more complex than the physical world and so it's not surprising to me that we understand it less.

There's every reason to think that that kind of investigation can go a long way but remember Peter you look at any human experience including the ones that people do not deny as real, I mentioned pain, i would add love, I would add all kinds of things. what we can say about them scientifically and how we can like that to what we observe in the real world is very tiny and we'll wind up bereft of any kind of rich sense of the human experience if we consider only the part that we can speak of scientifically as valid .

LET'S SAY IF WE HAD THE SAME PERSON WHO SAW AN EVENT 300 YEARS AGO AND SEES AN EVENT TOMORROW. IS THE EVENT DIFFERENT OR IS THE WAY THAT THAT PERSON'S GOING TO DESCRIBE THE EVENT DIFFERENT?

All I can tell you about that is two things. One, when we look instead of across time, when we look across cultures at those events that we know something about their subjective core, there are some of these for which what look like reports of different events when the person is questioned narrowly and I don't mean leadingly you'll have to trust me on that one, but that you can actually find tremendous similarity of the experience itself. That being true, there is reason to think that that can occur over time too since the only thing that you're looking at again is cultural difference. On the other hand, it's unknowable over time because while we can go to another culture and ask the questions we can't go back in time and ask the questions and we know that if the experience was the same the report would be different. So the fact that the report is different moot, it's moot.

In my work on the old hag has led me to do the narrow phenomenological investigations in a variety of cultural settings and to look at their local idiomatic description and also look at the phenomenology I derive even in the same cases, and I see across those cultural lines tremendous difference in the appearance of traditional accounts and tremendous similarity, really almost sameness of the actual experiential core, so I'm sure that it's possible, I'm sure that in terms of what Newfoundlanders call the old hag, what was happening 500 years ago or 1000 years ago was experientially indistinguishable from what happens today. But for the others who knows for sure. We've only begun to look at it systematically, just a little tiny bit, and most people are still not number one paying sufficient attention to the subjective accounts and number two giving sufficient thought to what a rational investigator has to do to render subjective accounts usable as systematic observations some of the I must say some of the abduction investigators have become very sophisticated on just that point.

TELL ME ABOUT SLEEP PARALYSIS AND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SLEEP PARALYSIS AND WHAT YOU'RE HEARING FROM PEOPLE WHO CLAIM TO HAVE BEEN ABDUCTED.

Okay. Sleep paralysis involves events that normally remain within the person's bedroom. Some of the typical events, you wake up you can't move, a lot of people hear footsteps approaching the bed, some of them hear the same kinds of footsteps, not everybody does but maybe there's a shuffling or whishhy footsteps and they sense or see something in the room, they're frightened, they can't move, about half the time it comes over and presses on their chests, makes it hard for them to breathe they struggle, when they break throught the paralysis, everything's gone but they are left with the conviction that they were awake, and in physiological and psychological terms they're correct this is a waking experience, now that remains in the room.

It's also true that the paralysis event when it goes on for many minutes which it doesn't usually but sometimes it does even ten or fifteen, frequently terminates in what the subject describes as an unpleasant involuntary out of body experience. That has a very familiar, similar ring to the description of the abduction even that begins with the paralysis and then people are taken out through the wall of their room, although a lot of abduction investigators insist that it's happening physically rather than psychically or whatever it is out of body experiences are. But that's another similarity. We can all I can tell you is that there are numerous similarities in the descriptions sufficiently so even among those who then consciously remember abduction events later, so I can tell you that for sure, sleep paralysis events are sometimes implicated in what people are calling abduction events, and sometimes not, and why they're connected, I don't know. they don't either no one knows.

SO WHAT'S GOING ON THAT WE SEE THIS AS EXTRA TERRESTRIAL DO YOU THINK?

Okay that's an excellent question because even among those investigators who are absolutely certain that these are extra terrestrials and space ships I've never seen any convincing evidence that obviously linked to that the conclusion seems to be since there is nothing else that does stuff like this they must be from some other planet. They certainly seem alien but whether they came from the centre of the earth or zatareticulae or another dimension or whether they're demons or whether they're fairies, I don't know. The certainly science fiction and what you referred to a moment ago is the sort of covering of our cultural images with science would make me expect people to sort of reach in that direction. But I must say that that direction is much more consistently held by investigators that people who say they've been abducted. A lot of people who say they've been abducted say I don't know really where these things are from, and some of them do say I was taken down inside the earth instead of saying I was taken up into a ship although a lot of them say I was taken up into something but almost say they were taken to another planet. So I think that the intuitive or the inferential leap to extra terrestrials is sort of on the basis of having discounted all of the other sort of extra dimensional possibilities that other cultures hold so people tend to say well they've got to be from somewhere and also it's got to be technological because we assume that only technology makes it possible to do amazing things which is definitely kind of an exaggeration. So it's a leap, but it's an understandable one today.