The REALL News


The official newsletter of the Rational Examination Association
		      of Lincoln Land

Volume 2, Number 6                                     June 1994

Electronic Version

If you like what you see, please help us continue by sending
in a subscription.  See the end of newsletter for details.

In This Issue:

From the Editor -- Bob Ladendorf
From the Chairman -- David Bloomberg
A Matter of Life and Near-Death -- Robert E. McGrath
Probe D'roid -- Martin Kottmeyer
REALLity Check -- David Bloomberg


The Rational Examination Association of Lincoln Land (REALL)
is a non-profit educational and scientific organization.  It is
dedicated to the development of rational thinking and the application
of the scientific method toward claims of the paranormal and fringe-
science phenomena.

REALL shall conduct research, convene meetings, publish a newsletter,
and disseminate information to its members and the general public.
Its primary geographic region of coverage is central Illinois.

REALL subscribes to the premise that the scientific method is the
most reliable and self-correcting system for obtaining knowledge
about the world and universe.  REALL not not reject paranormal claims
on a priori grounds, but rather is committed to objective, though
critical, inquiry.

_The REALL News_ is its official newsletter.

Membership information is provided elsewhere in this newsletter.

Board of Directors:  Chairman, David Bloomberg; Assistant Chairman,
Prof. Ron Larkin; Secretary-Treasurer, Kevin Brown; Newsletter
Editor, Bob Ladendorf; At-Large Members, Prof. Steve Egger, Wally
Hartshorn, and Frank Mazo.

Editorial Board:  Bob Ladendorf (Newsletter Editor), David Bloomberg
(electronic version editor), (one vacancy).

P.O. Box 20302
Springfield, IL 62708

Unless stated otherwise, permission is granted to other skeptic
organizations to reprint articles from _The REALL News_ as long
as proper credit is given.  REALL also requests that you send
copies of your newsletters that reprint our articles to the
above address.

The views expressed in these articles are the views of the individual
authors and do not necessarily represent the views of REALL.


                         From the Editor
                        -- Bob Ladendorf

   Having recently returned from a study vacation in
England and Wales concerning British crime in fact and
fiction, I had to immediately plunge into editing this
newsletter. In reviewing the articles, including the
criticism of John Mack's new book on alien abductions in
Martin Kottmeyer's "Probe D'roid" and Chairman David
Bloomberg's "REALLity Check" column, I was reminded of a
funny sight in England. I was starting my climb up the
Glastonbury Tor (large hill) near the castle destroyed by
King Henry VIII when I started to walk past a VW bus with a
large "Tarot Readings" sign propped up against it. (The tor
is a supposed magical place.) As I walked past, I saw two
guys intensely playing chess in the van. Could tarot readers
be closet skeptics or critical thinkers?
   On a more serious note, the line between real sexual
abuse and hoaxes gets harder to draw. On the one hand, there
was a court victory clearly demonstrating that false
memories could be instilled in alleged victims. (See David's
"REALLity Check", and don't miss his discussion of the
subject at this month's REALL meeting.) On the other hand,
books like Mack's _Abduction_ allege that alien abductions
(and repressed memories of them) are real.
   And don't miss the lead article by Robert McGrath, who,
like Kottmeyer, is a frequent contributor to this
newsletter. McGrath provides an extended review of Susan
Blackmore's book on near-death experiences. You might
remember McGrath's profile of the senior lecturer in the
October 1993 issue of the newsletter.
   Hope you can take some time out from this long hot
summer for some REALL news.


			 From the Chairman
			-- David Bloomberg

   There wasn't quite the turnout I'd hoped for at last
month's meeting, but elections took place anyway. The Board
stayed exactly the same, but Wally Hartshorn and Kevin Brown
traded positions so that Kevin is now the
Secretary/Treasurer and Wally is an at-large member.
   I'm hoping to see a much bigger turnout at our next
meeting on June 27th. I will be giving a presentation on
"repressed memories" and their relation to the claims we've
seen of childhood sexual abuse, satanic ritual abuse, and,
of course, alien abductions. It will be at 7 p.m. at the
Lincoln Library in Springfield. Please notice, for those of
you not familiar with Springfield, Lincoln Library is _not_
the library at Sangamon State University, but rather is
Springfield's public library. We have plans to meet there
for at least the next three months. Remember that we always
welcome topic/speaker suggestions for future meetings!
   On a completely different topic:  As the Chairman of
REALL, I often get interesting documents, both solicited and
unsolicited, in the mail. Many of these, I must say, are
crackpots seeking attention. They claim to be "skeptics" who
are "skeptical" of science today. For example, I recently
received a hardcover book which claims to hold the grand
unification theory. Sounds very scientific, until you read
it and realize that itOs actually a _religious_ book which
is pretending to be science.
   Some of these might or might not be crackpots, though.
In particular, a Canadian UFO investigator who I know
through the computer networks asked me to look at a document
he had received, purporting to be a "unified theory of UFO
technology, behaviors, close encounter effects, physical
traces, and origins based on a speculative interpretation of
weak nuclear force violation of parity conservation." Whew!
He asked me to read it and see if I could figure out 1) what
the guy was talking about, and 2) if it made sense. I tried,
but I never was very good at quantum mechanics and particle
physics. To figure out if the guy actually may have a good
point or is a total loon, I have to first be able to figure
out what he is saying!
   So, I'd like to put out a call to any readers who think
they might be able to figure this out. If youOd like to take
a shot at it, please give me a call or drop me a note, and
I"ll send you a copy of the package.

   Also, remember folks that we still have the 20% discount
available on Prometheus Books! We only need a few more books
to send it in, so hurry up and get your order to us ASAP!

					/s/ David Bloomberg


               A Matter of Life and Near-Death
                    by Robert E. McGrath

Susan Blackmore, _Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences_.
Prometheus Books, 291 pp, hbk, 1993, $23.95.

   In the last 20 years there has been an explosion of
interest in Near-Death Experiences (NDEs). Books and
articles have reported dozens of cases of people who, while
apparently unconscious and near death, had amazing,
life-transforming experiences before returning to life. They
recall leaving their body, flying through a tunnel toward a
bright light, meeting luminous beings, and then returning to
life in their body. After a NDE, the person's life is
changed forever, and they strive to live each day to the
   Similar experiences are reported around the world and
throughout history. It is widely believed that these
experiences are evidence of a spirit or soul which exists in
a higher or alternate reality. In this view, the NDE occurs
when this spirit leaves the dying body and shows that the
soul continues to exist after death. These contentions
appear to fly in the face of materialistic science, and NDEs
seem to offer objective proof of a major paranormal
phenomenon. Can science take up the challenge, and provide
an alternative account of NDEs?
    Susan Blackmore, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the
University of West England, takes on this difficult task,
requiring a careful examination of the NDE, setting forth a
theory to explain the facts, and evaluating the competing
explanations. Blackmore does all three, and in doing so
provides a dandy example of how to ask good questions, what
sorts of answers are useful, and how to think
critically-even about life, death, and self-awareness.
     What, if anything, is a NDE? Blackmore reviews the
evidence and finds that there is a recognizable phenomenon,
as described in the NDE literature. The NDE is a complex set
of experiences, although not every NDE includes all the
elements. The features include:
    - a feeling of sublime bliss and peace
    - a feeling that time stops a feeling of leaving the
body, that is, an out-of-body experience (OBE)
    - flying through a "tunnel" toward a bright light
    - meeting departed loved-ones or other spirit beings
    - reliving episodes from life.

   These, then, are what needs to be explained.
   Blackmore shows that most of the elements of the
experience are not unique to the NDE but are known to happen
in other conditions, such as drug-induced hallucinations,
epilepsy, and mystic trances. This suggests that there are
common mechanisms responsible for the experiences. For
example, the classic "tunnel" experience is reported from
OBEs when the person is not near death, and from drug trips.
In fact, Professor Blackmore herself has had such an
   Many people who have had a NDE give accurate reports of
events during the time they were unconscious. These reports
are difficult to confirm because the people involved were
usually in a life and death struggle at the time and not
carefully recording all the details. It does seem true,
though, that people can sometimes perceive events around
them, even while apparently unconscious. These perceptions,
Blackmore says, appear to be limited to what one would
expect if the normal senses were still partly working.
Blackmore could find no solid evidence of paranormal
perception during a NDE. This is consistent with her
findings about OBEs in her earlier book, _Beyond the Body_
   As an alternative to the popular "afterlife"
explanation, Blackmore constructs a theory of the NDE based
upon brain physiology, cognitive psychology and her own
previous work on OBEs [2]. The NDE is, she says, the
experience that happens as the brain slowly dies. She
explains what is understood of how the healthy brain works,
and what happens as, suffocating and cut off from normal
sensory input, the brain struggles to survive and maintain a
coherent model of the world. This death struggle, she
argues, produces the abnormal experiences of the NDE.
   Blackmore hypothesizes that the "tunnel" experience is
due to abnormal activity in the visual cortex caused by slow
anoxia, or oxygen starvation. The feelings of peace and
bliss are probably due to a flood of endorphins released in
response to the trauma of dying. Endorphins may also cause
seizures which trigger the vivid memories of life events.
Thus, some of the elements of the NDE are probably due to
the physiology of the dying brain. What about the more
complicated experiences, such as the OBE and the
psychological transformation so frequently reported?
   The OBE is, according to Blackmore's theory, a
malfunction of the way that the brain normally maintains a
model of "me in the world". This model is responsible for
the everyday experience of being "in the body" and
perceiving the "real world out there". As the dying brain is
cut off from sensory input and starts malfunctioning, the
model of "me" and "the world" disintegrates. The brain
fights to live, though, and builds replacement models using
the best data available: fragments of perceptions, memories,
and imaginative reconstruction. These elements play a role
in everyday perception of the world, but in the absence of
external data, the model produced may depart quite a bit
from actual events. Blackmore theorizes that the best model
available is experienced as "reality", no matter how weird
by normal standards.
   Blackmore's theory explains the relationship between the
NDE and other related phenomena, such as OBEs, drug
hallucinations, and mystic experiences. It also explains the
everyday "in-the-body-experience", and offers deep insight
into just who the 'I' is that inhabits 'my' body. There is
no 'me' inside, Blackmore concludes. The experience of "me
in the world" is what the brain feels as it models reality.
Blackmore suggests that in some NDEs and in certain mystic
states there is a time when this model is broken down. This
is the feeling of "timelessness", she says, and this
experience is what transforms the life of the person. It is
a glimpse past the everyday illusion of "me in the world",
and normal life can never be "real" in quite the same way
after this experience.
   Blackmore's first book, _Beyond the Body_, was the
definitive examination of OBEs, and this new book is the
definitive examination of NDEs. Professor Blackmore shows
that science can not only address the issues raised by OBEs
and NDEs, but that by doing so, we are led to important
scientific understandings. Further, these understandings
have deep implications for what it means to be human, and
how to live and die well.


1. _Beyond the Body_. Heinemann, London, 1982. American
paperback edition, Academy Chicago Publications, Chicago,

2. "A Psychological Theory of the Out-Of-Body Experience",
_Journal of Parapsychology_, Volume 48, 1984, pp. 201-218.


                        Probe D'roid
                     by Martin Kottmeyer

   I was flipping through John Mack's new book,
_Abduction_, while in the bookstore yesterday, looking at
the pictures, and one of the first things I stopped on was a
pair of drawings on p. 264 which showed a probing instrument
grabbing the familiar round bee-bee implant commonly
reported in abduction experiences. The drawings, Mack
observes, "were made independently," and we are implicitly
meant to be impressed by their similarity. They both possess
four wire-like grabbers that are all bent at mid-length and
emerge from a thicker cable or tube. What puzzled me was not
their similarity, but the fact that they were different from
earlier drawings of nasal implant probes connected to the
cases of Betty Andreasson (_The Andreasson Affair_, 1979, p.
58) and Virginia Horton (_Missing Time_, 1981, pp. 162-3),
neither of which had those grabber tines.
   Mack notes that the instruments used in alien medical
procedures "do not resemble those with which we are
familiar." (p. 393) However, I had not even gotten home from
the bookstore when I remembered where I had seen this probe
before. I popped a copy of the video _Total Recall_ into the
VCR, did a little fast-forwarding, and, sure enough, there
it was. The Arnold Schwarzenegger character, Quaid, picks up
a device which he is being told he must use to remove an
electronic bug that had been planted in his head by Mars
Intelligence so they could keep track of him. He activates
it to test how it works and out come four wire tines just
like those in the drawings by Mack's abductees, Dave and
Julia. Quaid shoves it up his nose as instructed. There is a
crunching sound. He twists and pulls with great agony as his
nose gives birth to a ping-pong ball-sized "bug." It's
painfully funny.
   _Total Recall_ pulled in an impressive box office of
$118 million in 1990. It precedes by two years Dave's
regression involving the wire-cage probe which Mack dates to
August 14, 1992. He describes the probe being used in a
_Communion_-style anal rape rather than for nasal
implantation. Julia was present at this regression and
supportively mentions after the session that she also
recalled such a wire-cage probe from her own alien
experiences. We are not told whether or how it was used on
her, nor whether she drew or described it in earlier
sessions with Mack. Saying the drawings were made
independently may be a dicey statement given Julia's
presence at Dave's verbal description and the absence of
details about the context of her drawing. Even if they had
never met, the significance of the two drawings' similarity
is marginal since such a wire-cage implant grabber cannot be
considered uniquely alien if it had already been seen by
tens of millions of people in the culture at large due to a
major motion picture.
   I must add that it strikes me as ironic that such a
movie as _Total Recall_, which plays with amnesia, excessive
violence, and the uncertain reality of memories, should find
itself connected to the ambiguities of alien abduction

[The printed version of this newsletter had a copy of the
 sketches from Mack's book, and a sketch of the probe used
 in _Total Recall_.  Obviously, we cannot reproduce those
 in this, the electronic version.  If you don't want to miss
 future graphics, be sure to send in the membership form at
 the end of this file!]


      		       REALLity Check
		      by David Bloomberg

                      Who's Crying Now?

   The St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cicero,
Illinois, "officially" houses a miracle. That is the finding
of several church officials in this case of a weeping icon
of Mary, according to the _Chicago Tribune_ (5/6).
   Wow! That's great! We have an official miracle in
   Maybe we need to slow down a bit. Surely those who have
stated this to be a miracle tested it, right? Well, I guess
that depends on your definition of a "test." When Bishop
Basil, the official assigned to affirm or debunk the
"miracle," saw the weeping icon, he wanted to make sure it
was a real miracle. So he subjected it to scientific
testing, right? Well, not exactly. He gave it only a
"cursory physical examination" and performed an exorcism on
it, to make sure it wasn't actually Satan creating a false
miracle. When it didn't stop, he became convinced that it is
an "authentic" miracle. As the _Tribune_ said, "the
determination of authenticity is more a matter of faith than
science. No laboratory tests were conducted on the painting,
and there is no evidence that would meet the standards of
scientific inquiry."
   I suppose we could hold out hope for such inquiry, but I
think it would only be false hope. Again, as stated by the
_Tribune_, "the lack of tests has not stopped thousands from
streaming into the Cicero church over the last two weeks to
behold the 'miracle' for themselves."
   I realize that many are eager to believe in miracles,
but wouldn't it seem better for _them_ to at least make sure
it's authentic?

                         FMS Lawsuit

   One of the biggest pieces of news to hit this past month
was the result of a false memory syndrome-related lawsuit.
This suit involved, for the first time, the person accused
of sexual abuse (Gary Ramona) suing the therapists of the
person making the charges (his daughter, Holly).
   Briefly: Holly sought help from a therapist for bulimia.
The therapist wrongly told her that 80% of eating disorders
are caused by sexual abuse. Thus started a whole series of
events leading to the use of sodium amytal (wrongly called a
"truth serum") to put Holly into a "hypnotic" state, in
which she accused her father of sexual abuse. Her mother
believed her and divorced Gary, and, when word got out, he
also lost his high-paying job.
   So Gary sued the therapists for destroying his life. He
won, though he did not get even close to the sum of money he
had requested. The jury ruled that the therapists should
have been more skeptical and challenged Holly's beliefs
rather than simply accepting her "recovered" memories as
real. The foreman also said they found it hard to believe
that the abuse could happen over 11 years, and have all of
it repressed (including one supposed episode involving the
family dog).
   This case received a great deal of media attention.
_Dateline NBC_ featured a segment on it in their May 17
show. Reporters interviewed several of the main players and
managed to catch them in a variety of mistakes (the "80%"
figure is one of them). The therapists said it was a setback
for the profession, but others, including myself, think it
is a BOON for the profession, which will hopefully make them
more careful.
   One of those others is the (Springfield, Illinois)
_State Journal-Register_. Its May 19 editorial pointed out
that this case should serve as a warning to those therapists
using unscientific methods. One paragraph of that editorial,
in particular, deserves repeating here: "Ours is a nation
prone to pop psychology and pseudoscience. Self-help books
aimed at 'survivors' of long-forgotten child sexual abuse
abound. And far too many practitioners of memory therapy
have no more background in the subject than what they've
gleaned at weekend seminars."

                    On the Other Hand...

   Then there's the _Illinois Times_. On May 12, it
featured an article complaining about the Illinois
legislature's recent attempt to replace the statute of
limitations for charges of childhood sexual abuse (see
"REALLity Check," Vol. 2, #4). The author apparently only
talked to people on one side of the issue—those who oppose
the reimposition.
   As we see all too often, some claims are made which are
nowhere near the truth. In particular, Polly Poskin, the
director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault,
claimed that "a number of high-profile incidents [have]
fueled a backlash against sensitivity to the seriousness of
sexual abuse."
   I wrote a letter, published the next week, which pointed
out that I know of _nobody_ who doubts the seriousness of
sexual abuse, or is insensitive to it. However, I know of
many psychologists who doubt the methods used to "recover"
these supposed memories. I also reminded the author that
there are a number of people he could have talked to about
the many sides of this issue, and sent him, specifically, a
packet of information (including issues of _The REALL News_)
about FMS. Alas, I haven't heard back from him yet.

                         Mack Attack

   Harvard psychiatrist John Mack has been making the
rounds for his new book, _Abduction_. There have been
stories about him in many major newspapers, magazines, etc.
The vast majority of them have looked critically at his
methodologies and his abandonment of the scientific method.
   Then there's the _Chicago Tribune_...
   In its Tempo section (5/24), the Trib ran a "he said -
she said" story without bothering to actually investigate
any of it. In other words, they treated this story much like
they treat their stories on alternative medicine. For a
paper that is capable of good investigative work when it
comes to other subjects, I can't understand why they
routinely ignore that kind of journalism when it comes to
fringe science.
   One of the news organizations that did take a closer
look was _Dateline NBC_ (5/24). While I don't think it did
as good a job as they have done with alternative medicine
stories and the story on the FMS suit mentioned above, the
program at least did better than the _Tribune_.
   As usual, Mack stated that he simply can't find any
other way to account for the stories, other than that they
really happened. Psychologist Robert Baker can, and he
explained several possibilities. He also mentioned that Mack
only works with patients who are already convinced they've
had alien encounters, and Mack never challenges that.
Anybody remember, a few paragraphs ago, why the jury ruled
against the Ramona therapists? Yup, that's right, because
they didn't challenge her supposed memories.
   _Dateline_ also showed a hypnosis session with Mack. The
patient was concerned about 40 minutes of "missing time"
which occurred at 4 in the morning while he was on a couch
in a hospital waiting room. Mack never even suggested the
possibility that just _maybe_ he fell asleep! In addition,
there is some pretty obvious lapse in technique when Mack
says things like, "You mean [these experiences] add to
ourselves? Is that what you're saying?" If that isn't a
leading question, I don't know what is.
   As I said, they could have done a better job, for
example, by connecting its story of a week earlier, about
the FMS lawsuit, with this story. The methods are extremely
similar, as skeptics have been pointing out for quite a
while.  For more information, don't forget to come to the
REALL meeting on June 27, where I will go into greater
detail on the whole area of false memories.


		      A Nod to Our Patrons

REALL would like to thank our patron members.  Through their extra
generosity, REALL is able to continue to grow as a force for critical
thinking in Central Illinois.  Patron members are those giving $50
or more.  To become a patron of REALL, please see the membership
form below.  Patron members are:

David Bloomberg, Springfield    John Lockard, Jr., Urbana
David Brown, Danville           Robert Smet, Ph.D., Springfield
Alan Burge, D.D.S., Morton      Edward Staehlin, Park Forest
Wally Hartshorn, Springfield    Ranse Traxler, O'Fallon
Bob Ladendorf, Springfield


			Letters to the Editor

    We at REALL encourage letters to the editor about any article
or topic covered in The REALL News.  We want to make this a forum
for _all_ our members.  (Letters may be edited if too long.  Name,
address and phone number must be included with the letter.)


		 Predictions for Future Issues

** The Eyes That Spoke
** Looking into the _Sun_ -- and other tabloids
** Loch Ness Hoax
** The Baby Train


			Skeptics Online

If you have a computer and a modem, you owe it to yourself to
participate in the skeptic message areas on the computer BBS
networks.  Here in Springfield, call The Temples of Syrinx at
(217) 787-9101.  David Bloomberg operates this BBS, which carries
the FidoNet SKEPTIC, EVOLUTION and UFO conferences, internationally
distributed message areas for discussing topics of interest to
skeptics.  He is also carrying ParaNet conferences, all dedicated
to UFO and paranormal topics.  You can also find a wide variety of
skeptic, scientific, UFO, evolution/creation, and urban legend
text files.

	     The Temples of Syrinx -- (217) 787-9101


Regular membership includes _The REALL News_ and all of the benefits
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plus a listing in _The REALL News_ and our eternal gratitude (where
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Last modified Sun Jul 07 02:05:41 1996. Email comments to whartsho@mail.fgi.net