Friday, January 23, 2009

Sagan and the Hill encounter

Sagan's pervasive condescension notwithstanding, I agree with him that the Hill abduction is far from the definitive case claimed by some UFO researchers (or, as Sagan would have it, "enthusiasts"). But perhaps more troubling are the numerous liberties taken with the Hills' account in the dramatization. To the best of my knowledge, the Hills never described the UFO landing directly in front of their car; rather, they recalled a "roadblock" where they were accosted by beings assumed to be members of the UFO's crew. (Before their abduction, Barney had stopped the car to observe the airborne object through binoculars, shattering his previous conviction that the odd light that had been trailing them was a satellite or other mundane phenomenon.)

Sagan's fanciful depiction of the alleged UFO occupants is at least as disconcerting. Why, for instance, the spooky glowing eyes? While they may have a desirable cinematic effect, the Hills described nothing of the sort. Neither did they recall walking dazedly toward the landed craft without being accompanied by the occupants.

Perhaps these are minor points, and I might not bother complaining had "Cosmos" not been a science miniseries. But if a dramatization's purpose is to reconstruct an event, Sagan's effort falls conspicuously short. And while I tend to agree with Sagan's breakdown of the "star map" controversy, I fail to understand why Betty Hill's possibly garbled recollection undermines the overall validity of her testimony. Sagan appears to delight in using the star map as a straw man. While his specific points are well-made, he effectively ignores the purported abduction itself.

To my mind, the Hill encounter -- whatever it represents -- constitutes a single stitch in a tapestry of claims of extraterrestrial contact. To regard it without the benefit of context, both folkloric and contemporary, is to purposefully misunderstand its significance.


Tristan Eldritch said...

What I really love about this clip is the dog reaction shot at 3.49!
Agree about the star-map, it always seemed to me unlikely that anybody could have an accurate memory of a star-map they'd seen once, under highly stressful conditions anyway. In favor of the Hill case, cultural contamination can be mostly ruled out , since virtually no body was claiming this experience at the time. Similarly, since the hypnotist didn't actually believe any of the story, he can be ruled out as having any decisive influence on their testimony. For these reasons , the Hill aduction avoids many of the doubts surrounding eighties and ninties cases, when the aduction template was widely known, and many of the hypnotists were zealous believers in the abduction phenomenon.

purrlgurrl said...

Extraterrestrial or not, something happened to the Hills that night that defies conventional explanation. Their reported reactions and behavior immediately afterward (in Betty's niece's book, "Captured") indicate they were experiencing some post traumatic stress. That in itself is evidence that what they experienced, however they interpreted it, was real. Unless he had conducted face-to-face, in-depth interviews with the Hills, Sagan was only speculating . . . just like a ufologist.

Dr. Fong said...

Oh no what happened to their dog?

Did it run away in the hours they were gone? Did the creatures take it too? Was it probed?

Mac said...

@Dr. Fong

I find it amusing that the "Cosmos" writers were conscientious enough to get the Hill's dog's name right but utterly failed to faithfully portray the alleged abduction itself.

Happily, Delsie the dachshund survived the incident apparently unharmed and unprobed.

Mac said...


Sagan was an arrogant bastard, but I love him.

Joseph Capp said...

I just read Kathleen Marden Betties Niece article in this months MUFON journal:
"Psedoskeptics' Deception about the Bill and Barney Hill UFO Encounter"

She goes through some early examples of skeptics and how they used the same terminology that they use today> How anything that challenges the pyridine can be subject to this ridicule. Many times it can be used to stop new thinking. Lord Kelvin the leading scientist in England. wrote about the "radio has no future" and X-rays are a hoax" .

Marden goes on to counters point by point every major distortion around this case.
mad by skeptics.
In one part she goes through what they remembered while they were fully awake. She writes about what they told their family the next day..."

Betty and Barney first saw a brightly lighted object in the sky not a star."
The object stopped 80 to 100 feet above the car. Barney saw figures in the window. He saw one smile. He saw them march like in military precision to the rear of the craft; one remained. They were human like... one stared at him so intensely he thought they would be captured like a "bug in a net"
This while awake this they repeated to their families the next day. It was a very close encounter with an unknown beyond our capabilities craft with human type occupants. If we just stop there we are still lost for answers. So in the end if some skeptic want to call these two people liars, these two well grounded civil rights leaders, then they can certainly do it. But they don't they imply it. For me anyone that has to go that far... to prove UFOs don't exist then I say the are not a person of science they more like a inquisitor.

Joe Capp
UFO Media Matters

Mac said...

The UFO phenomenon is so stubbornly complex that it almost always makes for awful TV, and unfortunately Sagan's attempt is no exception. But the rest of "Cosmos" is good stuff.

Anonymous said...

"Their reported reactions and behavior immediately afterward... indicate they were experiencing some post traumatic stress. That in itself is evidence that what they experienced, however they interpreted it, was real."

No, it doesn't. Last week the mentally ill woman who lives across the street from me ran out of her house and began ringing every doorbell on the street and yelling. Believe me, she was quite traumatized, but once the police, ambulance and her husband arrived it was clear it was sadly another imaginary episode she had experienced.

The most useful (and amazing) things to be learned from the study of Forteana is that people filter all of their experiences through their belief systems, people can misjudge even the simplest of things under the right circumstances, people can and will invent explanations that "sound good" and then fiercely believe them without objective reasons to do so (from the dawn of the human race) and that people simply make stuff up. It's really amazing, especially in the cases where people knowingly created hoax tales then other people came forward to claim the phony experience had happened to them too!

Few advocates of the physical reality of fortean tales take into account these fascinating quirks of humanity before arriving at their conclusions.

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