Monday, September 5, 2011

My Disbelief Fell Off the Suspension Hook

I just finished the 2009 film "The Fourth Kind".  The film is a supernatural UFO horror film, told in a mockumentary style that attempts to interleave dramatizations with 'found footage'.  Attempts are made to convince the viewer that these are actual events, with authentic footage.  This is not unheard of with horror films; the 'based on a true story' claim has been around since at least "The Amityville Horror" and "The Texas Chainsaw massacre, with the "found footage" technique becoming prominent with "The Evil Dead" and "The Blair Witch Project".

However, it's difficult to establish suspension of disbelief here, because it's apparent that the film's creators only have a cursory understanding of modern psychology and psychotherapy.

To wit:

#1: People under hypnosis don't move around very much. Violent movements will bring a person out of a hypnotic state.  Hypnosis is a form of mental relaxation, inconsistent with physical activity.

#2: Hypnosis does not enhance memory; but hypnosis does encourage confabulation.

#3: If reports of waking up and seeing an owl occurs repeatedly, the response is to ask the patient to keep a pad of paper and pen to record their observations during bouts of insomnia, not hypnotize them the next day and ask them what they remember.

#4: Hypnosis is an altered mental state brought about by relaxation and calm.  Hypnotized people, even ones recalling traumatic events, typically do not experience significant levels of anxiety.  This is part of how hypnosis can be used in the treatment of phobias and other anxiety disorders.

#5: Hypnotised people do not typically experience physiological transients like retching or gargling. If you wouldn't do it dreaming or daydreaming, you won't do it under hypnosis.  A hypnotised person may choke, retch, burp, etc. as a response to a physical stimulus occuring in their physical body, unrelated to hypnosis, but that is not what is being depicted here.

#6: The main character initially positions herself as a psychologist engaged on a research project. Fun fact: despite what "Bones" tells you, psychologists are in fact scientists. Psychology is the science and study of behavior. Behavior that is observed, measurable, quantifiable. As a science, psychology operates on an empirical basis of fact. There is really no need for to psychologists to keep telling each other to focus on the facts. That's like MDs telling each other to focus on the symptoms.

#7: It's implausible for hypnotized patients to contort themselves severely enough to damage themselves.  It may be physiologically possible, under exposure to significant stress and adrenaline or in the course of a seizure, to contract a muscle group powerfully enough to cause damage to the underlying connective tissue, but such a state is incompatible with a hypnotic one (well, I suppose it would be possible for someone with a seizure disorder to experience one while in a hypnotic state, but that would be a readily identifiable medical phenomenon).

#8: Speaking languages one does not know, levitating, and electronic disruption of recording devices are unlikely to happen during clinical hypnosis.

#9: Unrelated to psychology, the depiction of Sumerian language and culture is off.  In a very narrow sense, Sumerian is "the oldest historical language", but only if one accepts that the defenition of "historical" includes "written down".  Sumerian is indeed the oldest known written language, but is not the oldest language of h. sapiens sapiens.  It is curious in that it is unrelated linguistically to any other known languages, but that is usually explained by the prevalence and dominance of the Semetic tongues in the area after the fall of the Sumerian culture.  Sumerian is not the "holy grail" of dead languages, except perhaps to historical linguists and historians focusing on the Near East.  Other researchers might be more interested in proto-Indo-European, proto-Dravidian, Mayan, or Minoan.

Of course, midway through the movie, the story comes completely off the rails...  some how hypnosis summons the ultras(1), who then can communicate with or through the hypnotised patient in real time.  The ultras here are inconsistent in their behavior - sometimes they float people through the roof (tidily repairing the damage behind them), other times they open doors and walk in.  They apparently can communicate telepathically, but also speak out loud for the benefit of everyone in the room.  The ultras here speak Sumerian, a language that a backwater psychologist in Nome, Alaska can somehow identify.  While adding Sumerian is a nice touch, implying that the ultras have been visiting us for a while (and Sumerian mythology has some interesting star god aspects to it), there's little reason to expect any given group of ultras to speak a human language.  It's also odd that the ultras speak a human language unchanged after 6,000 years, this is contrary to all theories of language change.  Also, why would telepathic ultras speak a dead language to humans who can't understand it?  Why not modern English?

Ultimately, the movie reveals itself to be entirely a work of fiction.
(1) We here at Et In Arcadia Ego prefer to follow John Keel and use the term ultra-terrestrial when describing a certain class of phenomena., and any putative non-human participants therein.  Doing so tends to highlight certain commonalities regarding events recorded in many different places and times.  Ultra-terrestrial events tend to occur at night, in sparesly inhabited areas.

Experiencers tend to be in or approaching an altered state of consciousness, usually one related to relaxation: sleep, highway hypnosis, flying at night over nondescript terrain, or engaged in a mindless repetitive activity (repetition relaxation).  Frequently physical exertion is at a minimum (engaging the relation between physical immobility and mental relaxation).

From a distance, the manifest themselves as lights, less often as sounds.  Movement through the sky is not uncommon, but such movement is distinctly non-newtonian.  It defys normal intuitions regarding inertia or gravity.  Circular swirling is not uncommon.

Upon entering the circumfrance of the phenomenon, a number of psychological effects occur.  There is a distortion of the perception of the passage of time.  Often, some form of paralysis or partial paralysis occurs (the known phenomenon of sleep paralysis is similar).  Auditory, visual, and olfactory hallucinations may occur.  Kinesthetic and balance may be affected, contributing to a feeling of flying, floating, or falling.  Anxiety ensues, which may be induced by the experience or as a reaction to it; this may lead to feelings of fear, terror, or paranoia.  Many experiencers report 'eerie' feelings, which may be the result of feeling anxiety with no readily identifiable cause.

Interestingly, the visual and auditory hallucinations experienced are resonant with the internal imagery of the experiencer.  Freudian or Jungian imagery predominates in accordance with the cultural and emotional worldview of the experiencer: 20th century Americans tend to report 'encounters with extra-terrestrials', while Christians might recount meeting devils or angels.  Prechristian peoples may have myths about the 'little people', the 'Elfreich'*, 'will'o'wisps' and similar.  Often, the anxieties of the experiencer will become manifest: psycho-sexual encounters and so on.  Barney Hill for instance reported his abductors as grey aliens wearing Nazi uniforms, something not unlikely to occur in the unconscious mind of a black man married to a white woman in the post WWII U.S. South.

Using the term ultra-terrestrial allows the recognition of the similarities of a number of cases, from faerie abductions in the British Isles, to witches Sabbats in colonial New England, to Incubi/Succubi events of Medieval Christendom.

* Origin of the English term 'eldritch'.


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