Monday, September 24, 2012

Reexamining the Outer Limits and Alien Abductions

You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to — The Outer Limits.
Last week I had posted a video that looked at extraterrestrial visitations over several decades of the 20th century (see this graphic) and the famous Barney and Betty Hill abduction in the 1960s, comparing their creature to that from an episode of The Outer Limits, the competitor with The Twilight Zone during the mid-1960s (and can be watched on Hulu as of the time of composition).

The Bifrost alien from
"The Bellero Shield"
After I posted that video, I had shared it with one of the best ancient astronaut/Atlantis theory skeptics, Jason Colavito, who is the author of the book The Cult of the Alien Gods. Apparently the argument that the alien creature from the episode "The Bellero Shield" (Season 1, Episode 20, which shows significant influence from Macbeth) was not the best fit, and the person that originally argued for the connection was working from memory rather than going back to the primary sources, namely watching the episode again along with others. That I did not check this and relied on a line of argument as such was not in best form, though the argument still had some weight because of the picture of the alien.

Drawing of a being that allegedly
abducted Barney and Betty Hill in 1961.
As can be seen, this creature had a bulbous head, wraparound eyes, and a lack of a nose, hair, and ears, much like the creatures described by Barney Hill when under hypnosis as well as the aliens commonly now called "the greys." So the estimation originally proposed from memory by Martin Kottmeyer in 1990 wasn't a bad one.

However, there are some disconnects between the bifrost alien (the shows uses the term to parallel the rainbow bridge of Norse myth and the laser the alien travels down to get to Earth) and the grey recounted by the Hills, and that makes Colavito's reexamination of the evidence very informative. Not only did he watch the episode of The Outer Limits again, but also other episodes close to the time when Barney Hill was to give his hypnotized testimony.

So let's compare the original proposal as well as that of Colavito's and see if we can explain the imagery the Hills claimed to have had when they were "taken" without the need to invoke something out of this world.

So, we first need to start at Barney Hill's testimony, as that is the closest we can get to the event, aliens or no. The transcript of his hypnosis therapy sessions are provided in John G. Fuller’s The Interrupted Journey (1966). On page 87 and later, we get some details of the physical characteristics of the creatures that abducted the Hills. For one, the head is round. The eyes are also slanted, though not the same as people from the Far East. The eyes in particular left a significant impression on Mr. Hill and he continuously mentions them, coming close to him, sometimes unconnected to any body at all. Mr. Hill also compared the alien to a German Nazi, and after the doctors asked we are told it had a uniform with a black scarf over its left shoulder; at least the leader is described so. The alien was also said to wear a black and shiny jacket and scarf. We get no description of hair, nose, or ears, and the drawing makes clear why.

One other details about the aliens to consider is how they communicate. According to the Hills, the creatures would talk to them using some sort of telepathy. Well, Barney said they communicated with him by telepathy, while Betty said they spoke English. But it was Barney that gave us the physical descriptions of note, so let's consider his testimony alone; otherwise with their stories at odds we have too much reason to discount it, and we wouldn't want to do that. ;)

Now, the bifrost creature from the episode "The Bellero Shield" does have a good number of the descriptive features of Barney's alien, but not all. The suit of the bifrost alien is more the space-man type, shiny silver more than black, and it speaks English (it even specifies it cannot read minds). There is also nothing menacing about it, and instead it is defensive and at the end altruistic. That seems to clash with the more insidious beings that the Hills described. And there isn't any abduction in the Outer Limits story here. So these are some significant differences.

However, this episode was transmitted 12 days before Mr. Hill gave his testimony, perhaps enough time to get lost in the details, especially in a hypnotic state? We still have the features of the head of the creature, unlike that seen in stories beforehand, so perhaps a little bit of strangeness in memory can account for what we have?

Instead of supposing peculiarities of human memory in an odd state, let's now look at what Colavito noted when he compared Mr. Hill's alien to that of another episode of The Outer Limits, this one from the very next episode "The Children of Spider County" (Season 1, Episode 21, aired 5 days before Barney Hill's testimony). The first thing that struck me is the first encounter with the alien in this show was a car driving down a country road. That already seems reminiscent of the Hill's abduction experience. There are also UFOs as lights in the sky, something like a bright planet. Again, that adds to the familiarity since the Hills likely misidentified the planet Jupiter or some other optical illusion (see Report 100-1-61, Air Intelligence Information Record).

But the monster itself needs to be examined.

First we notice the eyes. They wrap around in a very peculiar way, even more closely to the way drawn by Mr. Hill that the bifrost alien from before. And they on occasion glow, making them even more imposing. Additionally, there are prominent pupils, not apparent in the bifrost alien's eyes but notable in Barney's drawing and description. The alien also wears a black suit and tie, and this is closer to the description of the suit-wearing Nazi Barney spoke of, and again superior in connection to the bifrost alien. Barney Hill described a scarf or sash over the shoulder rather than a neck tie, and he spoke of black headgear, so the uniform isn't a perfect match. The creature has a fairly bulbous head, no hair, and an almost non-existent nose, more closely matching what Barney had drawn.

Another facet of the creature from this episode was that it would transform back and forth from a human form and the alien form. This also fits with the story told by Mr. Hill, for example when he says the eyes would go back and forth between round and slanted/wraparound. 

The creature in the episode also wants to take away the main character, take him to another planet, and the alien has already captured four other men to take back to outer space. This is far more an abduction story than the previous episode. And while the alien usually talks by spoken word, he apparently can commune with others via thought transference (to use the language from the Hill transcripts). Also, when the alien talks as a creature the mouth doesn't open-and-close, so a blurry TV signal could make the speech seem telepathic even in these cases (I actually wasn't sure when I watched, and I could see things with high quality.) The creature also had the power to control other's minds, suggesting the strength of its telepathic abilities. 

One feature that stands out that undercuts the connection is the ears, which are pointy or Spockish (the episode came out 2 years before the first episode of Star Trek) rather than non-existent. The monster also has something like insect pinchers at its mouth, something that Barney does not mention. So it's not a perfect match. However, we should consider what sorts of things humans first notice when it comes to individuals. We have a lot of wiring in our brains to notice and remember faces, and we do it in pieces. First, we note the general form with eyes, nose, and mouth, then we go into details. (This is described to some degree by V.S. Ramachandran in The Tell-Tale Brain.) The mouth also doesn't operate like our own as it does not open and close for talking, and it would open horizontally rather than vertically as human mouths are; that sort of alien feature would be harder to burn into the memory compared to the large, glowing eyes. And in this episode, we don't have clear framing of the mouth features or the ears. The first and second images of the creature provided have the ears barely noticeable, and the details of the mouth are also hard to pick up; in the 1960s, a TV would have been fuzzier, and all the more-so if the terrestrial signal wasn't great. In addition, when the alien is in creature-form, a foggy filter or layer is added, further obscuring the entity, so that the only prominent feature left are the eyes, something that is zoomed into for many of the shots, especially at the climax. At the moment of highest tension, when the alien's eyes glow and about the kill the main character, the camera is zoomed in and the mouth of the alien is blurred by the filter. That makes these auxiliary features not a kill-joy against the connection between the alien in this episode and the creature from Mr. Hill's hypnotic account.

But there is one other detail that Colavito points to that makes the connection particular interesting. Part of the story in "The Children of Spider County" is that there are several young men who are the product of intercourse between humans and the aliens from the planet Eros. (Sexy time!) But why should interstellar and inter-specie courtship matter? Well, Barney and Betty were an interracial couple, and at a time when this was not widely accepted in society (there were laws on the books in several states banning the practice, much like the laws against gay marriage today). The conclusion of the story has a half-human/half-Eros male stay with his white, female love interest, which could have had an emotional draw for Barney Hill, a black man married to a white woman. Colavito admits that he ought not read too much into a psychoanalysis of a person dead since 1969, but this does add some interesting circumstantial evidence.

There does exist one kill-joy worth considering, and that is the testimony of Betty Hill at a later date. She was asked about the show, and she claimed they had never even hear of The Outer Limits (see Jerome Clark, The UFO Book, p. 291). Then again, this was being asked of her about 30 years after the fact and after Barney had died, so this isn't particularly strong. Colavito considers the possibility of the teaser trailers for the show to be enough to connect the image of the alien to the abduction experience, but that probably won't work; doing that means we lose a lot of connecting details, including the interracial connection, the telepathy, etc.

So, the hypothesis has one weak link: did Barney Hill watch the show? Considering this to be significantly more likely than alien abductions that happen to resemble an episode of fiction a mere 5 days before testifying to it, probability swings one way very prominently.

One other interesting thing Colavito considered was another episode of The Outer Limits, this one a bit earlier than the other two mentioned. There are some points of the scientific tests done on the Hills, along with other background details, that seem to correlate between the episode "The Invisibles" (Season 1, Episode 19), which was also close in time to Barney Hill's date of testimony. This makes it appear even more-so that his account conflates several episodes of a show at the time (broadcast on ABC at 7:30 on Monday nights during the first season), all airing within weeks of when he testified. If these correlations be not imaginary, then Barney must have watched a fair bit of this show. It can't be proven, but it seems probable at this point.

So, on analysis, it seems Jason Colavito's hypothesis is significantly superior to the previous Outer Limits connection first noted in 1990. And his methods are better, going back to the primary sources to compare and contrast. I have added some other details to consider, and I think it makes the case strong enough to conclude that he is closest to the right answer of what likely influenced the Hill's testimony, at least detailing what Barney Hill said. However, it seems some of the features of the bifrost alien are an influence as well. The head of that alien is more bulbous, and later sketches done with Mr. Hill (drawn by David Baker) fit that alien rather well, especially the mouth and nose as well as the elongated head.

So, I suspect that Barney had several alien heads in mind with their most similar features all together and the others becoming more or less prominent based on his memory and what features stood out most in the episodes. The bulbous head and basic facial features of the bifrost alien stand out the most in "The Bellero Shield", while the eyes, clothing, telepathic powers, and emotional baggage of the creature in "The Children of Spider County" would leave a significant mental residue. The details from "The Invisibles" should also be added. Thus, the best explanation that fits the most data, fits with how memory works (adding together the most memorable features onto a generalized form), and with just one assumption (Barney Hill watching the show, and if he watched one episode, he probably watched several), this seems to be the best. That along with other influences, including conversations with his wife beforehand.

When we consider the lack of physical evidence, the contradictions in the Hill's stories, and their similarities explainable by the couple talking to each other for months or years before hypnotherapy, and putting it into the context of how different encounter stories were at that time, and we have strong reason to conclude that the Hills did not have an encounter with and ET.

I want to thank Jason again for letting me know about his reexamination of the case, and I would bet with my contribution things are perhaps a smigin closer to the right answer.

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