“I know they weren’t really there,” the lady told me. “But I did see them.”
She was talking about the UFO aliens she saw standing outside her home when she was a child, looking out through her bedroom windows. She’s a charming person, in her fifties although she looks much younger. I met her a couple of months ago, and she told me her story.
I believe both parts of her statement. No, the UFO beings weren’t really there. But yes, she did really see them.
Our conversation prompted me to reread a book I’d first read almost 30 years ago, Morton Schatzman’s The Story of Ruth (Putnam, 1980).
Schatzman, an American psychotherapist practicing in London, tells the story of a 25-year-old woman from the US who came to him in desperation. She was being persecuted by her father, a dreadful man who’d brutally raped her as a little girl. Only her father was still, physically, on the far side of the Atlantic.
What she was seeing was an apparition of her father, a being who looked and sounded and even felt so real that when he passed between Ruth and some object–let’s say, a portion of the far wall of the room she was in–he blocked it from her sight. As if she not only hallucinated his shape, but also the absence from her vision of whatever was behind the spot where that shape passed.
It’s an amazing tale. Not least remarkable are the parts where Schatzman, ever the dogged experimenter, tests over and over whether anyone else ever sees Ruth’s apparitions. (Because after a while she’s able to conjure up her apparitions, of her father and other people, in his office and elsewhere.) Mostly the results are negative; no surprise. But there are a few tantalizing clues that in certain circumstances Ruth’s visions can be shared, at least in part, by others. This may have implications for multiply witnessed UFO sightings.
As her therapy progresses, Ruth doesn’t lose her apparitions. She learns to control them, make them come and go at her will. To produce friendlier ones than her malevolent father.
Her husband Paul, for example.
Once when Paul is out of town and she’s feeling lonely, “I started making an apparition of Paul. When it appeared, it was nude and looked just like him. Neither of us said anything. I was lying on one side of the bed, and he lay down on the other beside me …”
I won’t repeat what follows. Suffice it to say that the apparition feels to Ruth absolutely real, solid, tangible. And male.
Under Schatzman’s guidance, Ruth gradually comes to see herself not as a half-insane victim of paranormal harassment, but as possessor of an extraordinary talent.
Extraordinary. Not unique.
Julian Jaynes, whose mind-blowing 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind I’m now reading for the first time, speaks of a young biologist’s wife who told him after one of his lectures “that almost every morning as she made the beds and did the housework, she had long, informative and pleasant conversations with the voice of her dead grandmother in which the grandmother’s voice was actually heard. This came as something of a shock to her alarmed husband, for she had never previously mentioned it, since ‘hearing voices’ is generally supposed to be a sign of insanity.”
Those labeled insane often do have hallucinations. Which is a bad thing. Or not?
“At a suspicion of hallucinations, distressed psychotics are given some kind of chemotherapy such as Thorazine, which specifically eliminates hallucinations. This procedure is at least questionable, and may be done not for the patient, but for the hospital which wishes to eliminate this rival control over the patient. But it has never been shown that hallucinating patients are more intractable than others. Indeed, as judged by other patients, hallucinating schizophrenics are more friendly, less defensive, more likable, and have more positive expectancies toward others in the hospital than nonhallucinating patients. And it is possible that even when the effect is apparently negative, hallucinated voices may be helpful to the healing process” (Jaynes, pp. 86-88).
Like Ruth’s visions.
Rereading Schatzman’s book in a cheap paperback edition (Zebra Books, 1981), I was disappointed not to find the passage that had most stuck in my mind from the hardcover. Did some editor eliminate it? Or did I hallucinate it?
In a footnote, perhaps, Schatzman quoted from Hamlet, Act III, Scene 4. Hamlet, in his mother’s bedroom, sees his dead father and hears his commands. To his mother he says:
“Do you see nothing there?”
The queen replies:
“Nothing at all; yet all that is I see.”
And Schatzman–if my memory is correct–asked: “How did she know, I wonder, that ‘all that is I see’?”
Think about it, the next time you look out your window and don’t see UFO aliens on your lawn.
by David Halperin
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