When Alien Abduction is Real(ish)!
Have you ever been experimented on by an alien, worked over by an incubus (or succubus), or just generally attacked by some form of monster while you slept? Well, we here at WhatTheFreud believe you!
And not just in the “we believe that YOU believe” sort of condescending way that the skeptics engage in. No, we believe that these things really DID happen-ish.
When you sleep, you go through several stages of the sleep process. The stage most important for abductions, however, is rapid eye movement (or REM) sleep. In REM sleep, your eyes go bonkers, your body is paralyzed, and you have your most vivid and memorable dreams. This is important! These are the basic ingredients for alien abductions!
Many people are surprised to find out that they aren’t the only ones who have awoken from a deep slumber only to be unable to move. They wake up – but they can’t move. If that hasn’t happened to you, imagine it. You wake up. You’re paralyzed. You can’t say anything. You can’t move at all. It’s pretty terrifying. This is sleep paralysis – or “muscle atonia” in nerd-speak. According to this study, this occurs in around 6.2% of the population – though I imagine that’s a pretty conservative estimate.
Some people wake up from sleep, but instead of being paralyzed, they continue dreaming. Awake – but still dreaming! This is referred to as a state of hypnopompic hallucination. REM sleep, remember, is characterized by vivid dreams. This study says about 6% of the population reports having hypnopompic hallucinations.
Taken together, sleep paralysis and hypnopompic hallucinations explain, quite nicely, the phenomena people experience with abductions, incubus/succubus attacks, etc. The body can’t move, the person freaks out and potentially hallucinates a horrifying cause of the paralysis – something supernatural. This is the perfect storm of neurological chaos!
But why aliens? In the process of rationalizing the horrifying experience, people are probably projecting what would scare them and that would also make (terrifying) sense – akin to Batman Begins. People today are more afraid of aliens than ever before. If this was a hundred years ago, people may have hallucinated vampires, Frankenstein’s monster, Satan, demons, etc. This is where culture comes in. With few exceptions, we are not born into this world with specific fears. Culture plays a huge role in telling us what to be afraid of – demons, germs, witches, Ozzy Osbourne, etc. Of course this impacts our dreams, so it’s bound to affect our hallucinations.
Alien abductions (which, at this point, you realize is short for “muscle atonia with hypnopompic hallucinations”) are the result of both neural activity and culture. This complex interplay of biological and social factors goes to show just how intricate and nuanced sleep (and nightmares!) can be. Halloween is a time of ghoulish fright and unspeakably atrocious horror movies. To be able to truly stare into the dark abyss that is Halloween, you really have to appreciate both the neural and cultural underpinnings of human thought. But remember, when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares into you!