Hello listeners of the Mad Scientist Podcast, and welcome back to another episode. A quick bit of housekeeping first! This month has so far been easily the best one for the show to date, we’ve hit a huge downloads milestone, broken all of our previous records for downloads in a day, in a week, and I’m expecting in a month, have gotten so much wonderful support in the form of I-tunes reviews, Patreon support, and so much else that it’s honestly a little overwhelming. If you listen to this show I consider you a personal friend, seriously, and if you decide to support us by leaving an I-tunes review let me know so I can send you a sticker! We have also recently updated the Patreon rewards as well, with Patrons now receiving access to exclusive video recaps of these episodes. I’ve made one of these recaps available on our Youtube Page, which I hope in a few months will start showcasing experiments and visual explanations for some of the things we cover on these episodes! If you join the Mad Scientist Patreon you will also receive a hand drawn doodle, one of each sticker made so far, exclusive access to Patron only stickers and merch, and each year that you’re a member you will get a pack with all of the newest rewards and some extra goodies. Ok, now on to the show.
This episode is a long time coming. It’s a topic that I’ve been fascinated with ever since I was a kid, and one that really scared me when I was younger. Alien Abduction cases have sort of taken on a very regular motif or pattern in the modern consciousness, where stories about people waking in the middle of the night by a glowing light through their windows, but waking with only the faintest of memories of flashes of sickly thin arms, silver walls and a deep humming throb in their ears, a cut into their guts, and deep, dark, almond shaped eyes being sort of the norm for this field. But interestingly there are a huge variety of alien races, methods, stories, purposes, and ideals out there in the world. Even if you don’t believe any of these things are real, the fact of this modern mythology being built all around us is quite fascinating, and in many ways the alien phenomena follows along with the abduction and mythology cases of the past. And since this topic is so huge, so varied, and contains so many different pieces to it, we are sort of going to have to take an X-Files style approach here and pepper in small pieces of the alien mythos to build into a fuller story. This episode, we are going to look at one small part of the abduction phenomena, which is itself a smaller part of the Alien Phenomena in general, and focus on the very first abduction case ever discussed in public, although according to modern knowledge on the phenomena it may not be the very first case to have actually occurred. I am of course talking about the Betty and Barney Hill Abduction case, which occurred in my favorite state, and one of my favorite parts of my favorite state, the area around the White Mountains of New Hampshire.” So shield your eyes from the glowing light, get back in your car, and prepare to lose some time on this week’s episode!
For this episode we have done our square best to find all of the most pertinent information, although there is a huge amount of it out there. Primarily, the research here comes from interviews, hypnosis sessions, and books written in conjunction with the Hill’s, including primarily “The Interrupted Journey” by John G. Fuller, and a number of papers from the Betty and Barney Hill Collection at the University of New Hampshire, which I was lucky enough to take a look at when these items went on display as a permanent collection in the Diamond Library. This story is one that is particularly close to my heart, not only because it’s the first real “abduction case” to be put out there in the world, but also because the setting and people this story is about are the settings and people that I have decided to call my home and neighbors. New Hampshire is a magical place, with the fall colors turning the deep green fields and bright forests into an autumnal world of reds, yellows, and oranges, the woods going from an inviting cheerful place to a foreboding dark rust colored world, with winds howling and the cold bite of winter not far off. This case is one that I have always loved, and its probably one that I would most like to sit down with and write a book someday, assuming this podcast keeps going well and I win the lottery.
The area where the Hills lived, Portsmouth NH, is a relatively small city, without large buildings or towering skyscrapers, but it is still significantly more populated than the White Mountain roads where the abduction itself took place. And this is a part of this story that is often glossed over or not really discussed as far as I can tell. The difference between the Portsmouth where the hills lived and the roads of Route 3 between Cannon Mountain and Lincoln, where their encounter supposedly took place, is nearly desolate by comparison even today, without lights on the roads and long stretches where the only signs of human civilization you may see are sporadic hotels and shops every 5 to 10 miles or so. It’s an easy area to become disoriented in, and I myself have had many a night driving through the region, noticing a strange light in the sky that I can’t place which turns out to have a completely human explanation, or even losing the moon through the trees and clouds, only to have it reappear on the opposite side of my car. So when you think of the Hills, it is likely more apt to think of them as dwellers of a small city, used to lights and noises at nearly all times, making their way through a heavily forested and foreign region of mountainous terrain and woods. This isn’t to say of course that the Hills were completely amateur when it came to the White Mountain Region of New Hampshire, as they had as far as I can tell been through the region at least once or twice before. But I think its important to make clear that this is not surroundings that they would have been at home in, nor felt completely comfortable driving through. And with that, lets get into the details of this case.
The Betty and Barney Hill case begins with the husband and wife duo coming home from a trip to Montreal, back to their home in Portsmouth, NH. The year is 1961, and aliens have hit the public consciousness in a big way. Only a few years before in 1947 the famous Roswell crash occurred, spurring a public love of the UFO and alien phenomena that hasn’t lessened in any significant way even to this day. TV shows on at the time such as “The Outer Limits” or “The Twilight Zone”, books such as BLANK and BLANK, and movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” posited visitors from the stars coming here to either destroy or help humans from some catastrophic end. This was at the height of the Cold War, only a few years from the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, and the space race was in full effect. And in many ways, this was the era that began our modern conspiracy theory culture, with the horrors of MK Ultra and the Tuskegee experiment occurring during this time and the era of nearly endless war really beginning to take off. To say that the “flying saucer craze” as Betty Herself put it in an interview towards the end of her life wasn’t a part of their every day culture is an inaccuracy that is often attributed to this case. Betty’s sister Janet in particular had even claimed to have seen a UFO a few years earlier on her way from Kingston NH to Haverhill Mass on Route 125, and her mother had also claimed to have seen UFOs. Barney himself in interviews and recollections of the event claimed that Betty believed in UFOs before this event, although he himself would remain stubbornly skeptical until he was eventually faced with his memories, supposedly, through hypnotic regression.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g93YoWsHjU Interview with John Horrigan 1999
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loDoCZ6cutU Betty Interview Stanton Friedman
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mmaz8A2V_o Barney Hill Full Hypnosis Sessions (Benjamin Simon)
They are on a road known as Route 3, on a stretch that today follows Interstate 93 down towards Concord, NH in the middle of the state. This is the White Mountain Region, an area with towering rock faces and dense forests on either side of the road for some stretches, an area that has always made the bulk of its money through tourism and skiing. They are tired, having spent the weekend traveling up to Niagra falls and Montreal, and have been driving for some time at this point already, making sporadic stops on their way to eat and relax. They didn’t have a whole lot of money for this spur of the moment trip, and had decided to keep food on hand in a car refrigerator so they didn’t have to stop to eat at gas stations or restaurants. The trip itself was supposed to be the vacation here as far as I can tell, as opposed to the stops along the way. The trip was planned for 4 days, with Barney having been working long hours in Boston for a while previous to this in the post office, and specifically making an approximately 2 hour commute each way. So you can imagine, he’s tired already from this just brutal commute every day, and now decides to take a driving trip for vacation. I’m not saying it was a dream, but this dude was definitely feeling fatigued I would say. But it is by no means a horrible trip, in fact Katie and I made the same one while we were in college at UNH. It’s about a 5 hour drive between Montreal and Portsmouth, so lets say about 7 hours given that it’s the 1960s and they took back roads on purpose for scenery. It’s certainly doable, but something to keep in mind with this story.
So they are on their way home from Montreal after this 4 day vacation. It’s now September 19th, and its around 10:30 pm, when Betty begins to notice a bright light in the sky which she at first believes may be a planet. She thinks nothing of it for a few miles, although when she sees it continuing to be in her line of sight, and seemingly to be growing larger, she mentions to Barney to take a look. In interviews and hypnotic regression, Barney would claim that he was actually getting somewhat annoyed at Betty, because although he kept saying that it must be a plane of some sort, his wife was unconvinced, and he believed thought that it must be a flying saucer or something strange. Betty would later recount in an interview with folklorist John Horrigan that she actually waved at the light and tried calling out to it, in an attempt to make it come closer to them, something she suspects may have something to do with their later experience.
So they are driving, and eventually Betty convinces Barney to pull the car over at a picnic area near Twin Mountain. Looking through the binoculars, and walking their dog, a dauschund named Delsey, Barney keeps trying to convince his wife that this thing is just another plane. But it’s moving erratically, and Barney is becoming increasingly anxious. They keep driving, this time moving more slowly, passing by the Cannon Mountain Ski Resort, and they keep seeing this thing flit in and out from behind the trees. Near the Old Man in the Mountain they notice it sitting near it, where Betty is able to make an approximate guess as to its length, which she says is around 48 feet, and seeing it seem to rock back and forth. This time he is worried enough to get his gun from the trunk.
They keep driving now, moving south on Route 3, eventually stopping to get out and get a good look at this craft, which now seems to have gotten closer to their car. As they are moving down this craft now lowers itself nearly to the road surface, a few hundred feet above ground, causing the Hills to stop their car. Barney parks the car in the middle of the road, near what is today the Whales Tale Water Park on Route 3, and takes out his Binoculars. Looking at the craft for the first time truly clearly, he sees that it is like a flat pancake, with a row of windows going around its length. As it descends he notices two red lights on the edges of the craft, and what appear to be wings protruding from the edges as it lowers itself. The dog, Delsey, is in the car, and Barney would say that he doesn’t really recall just what Betty was doing at this point. Barney makes his way towards the craft into a grassy field, Betty shouting at him to come back when she losses sight of him.
Barney claims to have looked through the Binoculars and noticed a crew of around 8 or 9 humanoid figures, with slanted, large eyes and bald heads. They are wearing uniforms, although the apparent leader of this group is wearing a scarf around his neck. Some of the figures appear to be smiling at him, while the leader appears nearly angry or malicious, and the memory of the leader would continue to haunt Barney in particular, especially it’s eyes. As he looks, the figures move back from the window, to what he takes to be some sort of control panel, while the leader sits and stares. And Barney is straight terrified at this point. He has these binoculars to his eyes, but he can’t seem to lower them, almost as if he isn’t in control of his own body. And he claims that he has this thought in his head, saying “Don’t be afraid, you Don’t have to be afraid, just keep looking”. He eventually musters the willpower to tear the binoculars from his eyes, and he runs back screaming to the car, shouting that this craft was coming to capture them. They tear off down the road, passing what is today Clark’s Trading post, in an area known as Indian Head, where Betty looks out the window to see if these creatures are still following them. Suddenly, they hear a repetitive beeping, which Betty would later say seems to come from near the trunk of the car. With it comes something like a tingling sensation throughout their bodies. The time is near midnight, and with this beeping they seem to lose all conscious memory of what next occurs. They seem to recall small flashes, such as turning off the road, coming to a roadblock with a glowing light of some sort, and being in the woods or a field.
The next time the Hills regain memory or consciousness is as they are nearing Route 93, about 35 miles south of where the beeping began. They come to with another set of beeping sounds, and awaken seemingly calm. They are confused, not knowing exactly where they are or what just happened to them, and only fully realize where they are by passing a sign for Concord on I-93, although they vaguely remember passing a sign for Ashland, about 35 to 37 miles South of Indian Head where they stopped in the road. Betty recalls asking Barney “ Now do you believe in Flying Saucers?” to which he replies “Of course not, don’t be ridiculous”. They drive pretty much the rest of the way home, about an hour and a half, in near silence. They seem to be in a state of shock, kind of making the motions mechanically of getting home so they can finally take some rest after this frightening night.
Looking at their watches, they realize that they have both stopped functioning. Betty’s dress has been ripped, and Barney’s shoes are scuffed up on their tops, as if he was dragged, and his binoculars leather strap has been ripped in half. And when they finally arrive home near dawn, they find that they must have been travelling for far longer than they should have. From midnight near Indian Head they should have been home around 2 to 3 am, but instead they arrived around dawn, so lets say 4 to 5 am. Betty asks Barney, for no clear reason that she can at the moment pinpoint, to not bring any of their belongings into the home, and instead to leave them near their back door. They each took showers, and Barney for some reason was compelled to check his genital region, although at the time he didn’t know why. Betty also compelled them both to draw a picture of what they had seen that night, and their pictures of the craft were supposedly strikingly similar at the time, although that can’t really be verified since they didn’t show these drawings to anyone at the moment. Finally they fall asleep, awaking to try and explain the events of the night before. Betty removes her dress, her favorite dress in fact that is now part of the collection at the University of New Hampshire, and finds that it seems to have a pinkish powder on it, which falls off after she hangs it in the closet. She then tries to throw the dress away, although thinks better of that afterwards and retrieves the dress and her shoes, which she then stuffs into the back of her closet.
Now Barney isn’t having any of this. He is pretty shaken up by the whole encounter, and although Betty was in some ways a believer before the event, Barney is trying to just kind of get her to drop the whole thing. She keeps asking him details of what he remembers, what he think happened, and eventually convinces him that she should tell someone about this event at least. He concedes, and she calls her sister Janet, who as I had said previously had an encounter with a UFO a few years earlier and had confided in Betty at the time. See, Betty appears to be quite frightened about the possibility of radiation hurting her or her husband due to their encounter with this craft, and she believes that perhaps their clothing, their car, everything they had on them may be contaminated. Her sister tells her to check their car, since if the craft seemed to make this strange buzzing sound perhaps there would be some physical evidence of radiation damage, and Betty goes outside to find that there are polished, concentric circles on the trunks hood of the car. She immediately tells Janet, who suggest that she will talk to her neighbor, who is a physicist, who suggests that if Radiation caused this damage it may have an affect on the magnetism of the metal. So she gets a compass, finding that in fact the compass begins to act strangely, as if attracted to a magnetic field, whenever it goes over these circles on the car. This prompts Betty to convince Barney to now contact the Pease Airforce Base in nearby Pease NH, about 30 minutes from Portsmouth, and near a pretty delicious Red Hook brewery site today. Anyways, they tell the Air-Force, who seem quite interested in the event and the wings on the craft in particular, and they try to go on with their daily lives.
Now they can’t remember at all what happened in that 35 miles between the beeping noises. But Betty begins to have extremely vivid, frightening dreams about 10 days after the initial event, which last for 5 days. And her dreams are pretty disturbing, suggesting that potentially they didn’t just see the craft, but instead may have been taken on board, or forcefully experimented on. Her dreams are at first assumed to be just that, dreams, however both the dreams and their encounter cause Betty to begin looking into UFO cases. She also starts recording the dreams as she remembers them at the suggestion of a friend, and what she records is pretty disturbing. This is from her recordings, as recorded in “The Interrupted Journey”:
At the same time, Barney is finding himself increasingly anxious, to the point that it begins to affect his daily routine. And so while Betty attempts to keep a lid on her own frightening beliefs about these encounters, her husband starts to see a therapist. While he and his therapist think that the encounter with the UFO is just a strange thing, something that doesn’t have much to do with his anxiety, for Barney in later interviews and through what we learn via their hypnosis, this event was extremely traumatic. First off, this thing is not supposed to exit, and in Barneys rational mind this event having occurred at all must mean that he is losing his mind in some way. And so for him, the most effective and smart thing to do with all of this event is just forget it happened, to move on and not ever speak of it again. Really, if it weren’t for his wife’s continuous efforts to determine just what occurred to them, and to prove to her husband that it was real, I don’t know if this case would have ever come to the public’s attention.
This is all happening around a 3 to 5 month period, with their case making its way up the chain of command in the military. Betty keeps telling people about these vivid dreams, and Barney continues to meet with this therapist, and they also start talking to more people about the event itself. They end up meeting with a member of NICAP, who is sent at the request of the Air Force to investigate this case that is so different han the others they have previously received. The investigator, Walter Webb, who works at the Hayden Planetarium in Boston, finds them to be extremely believable based on his own testimony and the NICAP report which is still available. A portion of their case sums up his conclusions pretty well, quote:
“ It is the opinion of this investigator, after questioning these people for over six hours and studying their reactions and personalities during that time, that they were telling the truth, and the incident occurred exactly as reported except for some minor uncertainties and technicalities that must be tolerated in any such observation where human judgement is involved. “
Their case also comes to the attention of a few other investigators who work for local engineering and electronics companies, specifically C. D. Jackson and Robert E. Hohman, as well as Major James Macdonald, a local friend of the Hill’s who had recently retired from the Airforce intelligence service. Through conversations with these individuals the Hills are convinced that hypnosis may be a useful tool for them to uncover what occurred during the amnesia period, and potentially help them alleviate their anxieties.
So we’re going to fast-forward a little bit here. It’s now been around 2 years since the initial event, and finally things sort of come to a head and they decide on attempting hypnotic regression therapy as a means to alleviate their continued anxieties around these events, as well as to try and figure out just what happened in those few hours where they seem to have just fallen off the face of the Earth. In the time since Betty has been continuously wondering about these dreams she’s had, as well as writing them down and comparing their case against other UFO cases in the books she finds in their local library. Barney has also continuing his treatment for anxiety, however his doctor and he have come to the conclusion that this event with the UFO, which they originally believed to be an odd but inconsequential event, may be the root of much of his recent anxieties. And they’ve also, in an attempt to sort of dislodge some of these memories from their minds, starting taking regular trips up and down Route 3, to try and find further information about what happened to them that night in September. Although they don’t find anything of importance on these trips, they do have a frightening encounter where Betty has a near panic attack at a road stop. It’s described in “The Interrupted Journey” as follows:
“A few weeks later, another puzzling incident occurred that neither Barney nor Betty could explain. They were driving in the car through the countryside near Portsmouth, on a road in a sparsely populated area. Up ahead of them a parked car was partially blocking the road. A group of people were standing outside the car, and Barney began to slow down gradually to avoid an accident. Suddenly, Betty was overcome by fear. She could not explain it, even to herself. “Barney” she said. “Barney – Keeps going. Please don’t slow down. Keep going, keep going!” And she found herself starting to open the car door on the passenger side, with an almost uncontrollable impulse to jump out of the car and run.” This event would startle both of them quite badly, because up to that point their relation to this thing had been sort of Betty inquisitive and un-emotional, while Barney was pretending to put forward a strong face but was clearly quite upset by the whole ordeal. Of course Betty’s dreams disturbed her, and they were both frightened and concerned about what those 35 miles might hold, but to this point it had been pretty much kept in control for the both of them. But things were starting to get more intense, and so they decided to attempt the hypnosis that had been suggested to them earlier.
They eventually come into the care of Dr. Benjamin Simon, a well known psychiatrist at the time in Boston, who was at that point something of an authority on the use of Hypnosis and Narcosynthesis, the practice of utilizing drugs to induce a more willing state to recall disturbing or difficult memories.
--> Free wheeling from here!
Hello listeners, and welcome to Episode 29 of The Mad Scientist Podcast. This week we are going to be jumping right back into the Betty and Barney Hill Case, looking at the evidence of this case from both sides, and discussing each of the major theories about this case in turn. In many ways, what I think about this case is something of a moot point, since like in any scenario where someone is teaching someone else about a topic, it is up to the listener to decide based on the evidence provided. Now I can’t possibly hope to cover every possible angle and bit of evidence that is out there for this case, including the huge preponderance of similar experiences that people have claimed to have had since the Hill’s first made it onto the scene. However, we’ll look at this particular case in as deep detail as we can. So strap on your Zeta Riticuli issued jumpsuit, Count to Three, and sleep at the sound of my voice on this weeks episode!
Last time we left off with the Hill’s story becoming an international sensation, leading to others coming forward with their own abduction claims and becoming a pretty integral part of the UFO mythos. At the same time however, the Hill’s themselves would eventually come to be viewed as something of a problem for the UFO community, with Betty Hill in particular becoming ridiculed towards the end of her life for being what some would consider a true believer, the sort who doesn’t look at the evidence fully before making a decision nor testing against rational hypotheses first given her own experience. And the Hill’s story became quite morphed over time, from the almost pleasant experience Betty related of calling the nearly human Aliens down to Earth, chatting with them peacefully and pleasantly in the ship after their test, and wishing in some ways for them to return to the modern view of the abduction phenomenon as something closer to what Barney Hill claimed to experience. The modern notion of alien abduction as a very negative experience where an individual is taken against their will despite their great hesitation and fear, sexually molested, and repeatedly terrorized throughout their lives by cold, unfeeling beings with large black eyes and short, thin bodies is not what the Hill’s experienced by any stretch of the imagination, even given the negative feelings Barney showed about it afterwards. This in many ways places the Hill’s experience as a sort of focal point, between the end of the “benevolent space brothers” phase of UFO lore and the “mechanical scientists” phase as I like to call it.
To many people, the simple bulk of reports of alien abductions or UFO encounters validates the experience as something real, something that is worthy of investigation by modern science. And I would argue that for me personally this argument is compelling, I mean hell, I wouldn’t be doing this show if I didn’t think there was at least something to investigate and understand here. But that says nothing about the veracity or truth of these experiences. I think a pretty interesting quote on this comes from an essay which is part of the collection “Science and the Paranormal” by …
Ok, so the huge amount of reports in no way, at least in my viewpoint, removes the chance of falsehood or mistake from this report, even if it is one of the most famous UFO cases of all time. I think we can, as a starting point at least, discount the notion that the Hill’s were simply trying to obtain fame or fortune from this story. Initially they only told close relatives and a handful of friends, and Barney was completely against discussing or recalling the event if he could help it as we talked about last time. They made some reports to the military through Pease Airforce Base, and that was really what triggered their discussions with further investigators. And they only went to hypnosis when it became apparent that this event that occurred to them, weather real or imaginary, was the source of significant anxiety for them both, through Betty’s nightmares and Barney’s waking symptoms. And as far as we know, their case only became public knowledge due to someone recording an event where they recounted their experience for a group of UFO enthusiasts at a local gatheringof their amateur research group in Quincy Massachusetts, which on its face may make it seem that they were trying to gain notoriety by talking about this thing in public, but which I think was meant to be somewhat therapeutic for them. Again, Barney didn’t want to talk about this event because it produced cognitive dissonance in his worldview, causing him to accept the fact that things were out there that didn’t fit into his rational, scientific sort of worldview, while Betty immediately after the event attempted to find as much information as she could about flying saucers. I can relate to both of them on this in many ways, and don’t know how I would respond if I found myself missing time after seeing something I couldn’t explain on the highway late at night, let alone if it was with another observer who experienced the same event. But I do think I would try to find out as much as I could, and try to determine just what happened to me by looking at all possibilities. That being said, I do think Betty had made up her own mind that this was a UFO related event even before the amnesia itself occurred, just from Barneys recall of the event and her own claims about calling down to the craft and in many ways being excited of the possibility of seeing a UFO or meeting with its inhabitants.
Well, what evidence is there that something strange took place? Obviously we have the word of the Hill’s, which I think can’t be discounted entirely, however people’s memories about even non-traumatic events are notoriously flawed and pretty easy to shape by later memories or events. One good thing is that the Hill’s told this story pretty quickly after their initial encounter with each other and with some friends, although the confirmation that what they recalled later was exactly what they recalled at the time is somewhat tricky to prove. We have the hypnosis sessions, which I think are stronger evidence than conscious recall for a number of reasons we’ll get into, and we have Betty’s written account of her dreams about the events. There is the amnesia itself, which seems to have occurred to both Betty and Barney Hill based on their testimony and which seems to have lifted upon hypnosis. And there is some physical evidence as well. The Hills claimed to have had physical testing done to them, which resulted in Barney having some strange physical affects after the fact. There is also Betty’s dress, which was ripped during the trip, Barney’s shoes that were scuffed, and the strange circles on the car’s trunk that supposedly reacted to a compass as if some magnetic anomaly existed near them. And finally a piece of evidence that is quite interesting, a recalled version of the Star Map the leader showed Betty while she was in the craft, which was brought out of her memory via hypnosis.
Let’s start with the first thing that really tipped the Hill’s off that something strange had happened to them, the physical evidence they claimed to have seen. In this list I would include the torn binocular strap, the scuffed shoes and ripped dress, the broken watches, and the magnetic circles on the car. How can science explain those details? Well, the shoes and the dress I don’t think really can be explained scientifically, unless of course we assume that the Hills in some kind of dreamlike stupor destroyed the objects for some reason. Then again, since we don’t know what the items were like before the trip it is impossible to say that they were absolutely distorted in exactly the way the Hill’s claim exactly during this trip. The same can really be said for the magnetic circles on the hood of the car, since no one has ever claimed to have seen those circles besides the Hill’s, and they were said to have simply washed away after the next rainfall. These are interesting though, because what could have possibly caused these sort of magnetic anomalies in the first place?
Magnetism stems from the atomic structure of a material, where the quantum-spin state of the electrons in the structure become aligned all in one direction, creating a net magnetic field. Basically you can imagine that each electron in an atom has its own small magnetic field due to it constantly being in motion, particularly due to its spin motion and momentum. When these magnetic fields go against one another, so in other words have equal magnitude but opposite direction, then you end up with a net zero magnetic field, and no magnetism for the bulk material. On the other hand, in some materials these smaller magnetic fields align naturally, creating a permanent magnet such as those holding up my drawings currently on our fridge. These permanent magnets are known as ferromagnetic materials. Now in some materials known as paramagnetic materials you can also induce magnetism, for instance by applying an electric charge or magnetic field to the material, forcing the electrons to align magnetically for a period of time. You can also create magnetic fields by temperature or pressure changes to induce changes in the crystal structure, or even by heating up or cooling the material to remove defects that would normally stop magnetism. This is for example how superconductors work, with cooling of the superconductor removing the electrical resistance or amount of energy lost transferring electricity through the material, resulting in extremely high attainable magnetic fields.
In theory if the Hill’s are telling the truth about this magnetic shift of their cars hood then it would have been an induced magnetic transition, in other words a change from the hood being normally non-magnetic to paramagnetic. As far as I can tell, the Hill’s drove a 1957 Chevy Bel Air, a beautiful car, which had a steel body. You can induce short term magnetism on steel by basically applying a magnetic field to it for some time, so potentially I guess it would be possible for the alien encounter to have applied magnetism to their car, assuming that they used some kind of weird electromagnetic field of some sort to slow the car down or something. But why would they? The Hill’s claimed that the aliens got out of their ship and stepped in front of their car to stop them, as opposed to the sort of usual abduction scenario we now here about where people hear noises or see a flash of light while driving. Now maybe the magnetism was some secondary affect of some kind of weird beam or something that the aliens applied to their car? I guess that’s possible, but again it would only be induced magnetism since they didn’t notice the cars body changing or becoming damaged in any way, something we would expect if a phase transition from a nonmagnetic alloy to a magnetic crystal would occur for example. And since again we have no evidence for these circles besides the Hill’s claims, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given what we currently know about the way magnets work that this would of occurred. As for radiation inducing this sort of magnetic shift that would only occur due to a change in the crystallinity of the material, which again would likely result in damage to the cars hood. The magnetic field theory does hold some water however because their watches were supposedly damaged after their encounter, something that could be caused by a magnetic field messing with some of the internal components of the watch, and which would not really make a lot of sense otherwise. All in all then, the physical evidence for this case isn’t exactly a slam dunk for team aliens, but its also not great for team rational scientific explanation.
Alright, well how can we explain the missing chunk of time that they experienced. The true believers will tell you that the Hill’s were completely awake and alert while driving that night, and so could not have possibly fallen asleep during this event. But you don’t need to fall asleep to dream or hallucinate while tired, or even to have been driving on autopilot, a sort of mode of attention less driving that I’m sure many of you listeners have experienced, as have I, on long trips. This is known as Highway Hypnosis, or autopilot, a mode of action where because your brain is doing a monotonous or boring task time seems to move more quickly in your recall and your brain may filter out significantly more information than it would normally do while alert and active.
There is scientific evidence to back up these anecdotal claims. This phenomena is known as a period of micro-sleep, a state wherein some portion of your brain shows reduced activity or near sleep like patterns even while you are by all other factors awake. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison showed that this occurred in the brains of rats who had been sleep deprived even while awake and performing tasks, causing them to make mistakes. This is what is occurring in your brain while zoning out, the brain is turning off certain portions to rest while others remain awake, causing you to miss things you should be sensing such as noises or even visual cues. For instance, in cases where someone is seemingly awake while driving but then runs a red light without realizing it, or misses a turn, or can even drift into oncoming traffic you are not asleep per se, instead your brain is just going on autopilot, assuming that things will remain the same as they have been so that it can catch a few quick moments of respite. This scenario has been the focus of researchers trying to determine the effect of continued loss of sleep on people such a bus drivers or train conductors, and became a focal point in the discussion about Amtrak crashes occurring due to conductor tiredness.
I think its very possible that the Hill’s, after a day spent in Montreal until the evening, made the decision to drive and potentially went into this sort of micro-sleep state while on a boring and dark road in the Mountain valleys of New Hampshire. This isn’t to say that the entire event was hallucinated, or even made up, but I think a very strong case can be made that micro-sleep may at least account for the missing time they seemed to experience while driving home. By all accounts the Hill’s themselves didn’t even realize the missing time was of any significance until it was pointed out to them in their discussions of the event.
Alright, so the Hill’s are driving home. They have spent the day in Montreal, and decide to leave towards the late afternoon/early evening. The trip from Montreal back to Portsmouth NH, driving at a brisk 65 miles per hour on these back country roads, will take around 5 and a half hours with todays infrastructure. Based on their own accounts they stopped for a bite to eat in Colebrook, NH and leaving at around 10:00 pm at night. Barney remarked to his wife that he would expect them to arrive home by 2:30 to 3:00 am that morning, giving their expected trip time from Colebrook to their home in Portsmouth as 5 hours. They stopped at 3 points to observe the craft as far as I can tell from the various sources on the event, first at a pull off point near the Mount Cleveland scenic picnic area, next near a pull off by the Old Man in the Mountain viewing area, and finally south of Indian Head near where the Whales Tale water park stands now, where Barney saw the beings and was stood transfixed in his telling. Let’s say each of those stops took between 10 and 30 minutes, then that already accounts for an hour and a half maximum of time they are missing. They then claim to have arrived home near dawn, finally pulling into their driveway at full dawn. Well, what time was sunrise that day? Pulling up some online sunrise/sunset calculators I found that the agreed time for twilight that morning was 5:58 AM, while full sunrise was at 6:26 am. In “The Interrupted Journey” their arrival is described as follows
“ Just Outside Portsmouth, they noticed dawn streaking the sky in the East. As they drove through the streets of the slumbering city, no one was stirring. The birds were already chattering though, and it was nearly full daylight when they reached home”.
So I think its safe to say that they arrived at Portsmouth sometime between 5:30 and 6:30 AM, with birds generally beginning to chirp sometime in the region of 4 am to dawn. So how much time did they really lose? Initially Barney said he expected they would get home around 3 am from Colebrook NH to Portsmouth NH, so lets take that as their expected arrival time. That gives them somewhere in the region of 2 to 3 hours of lost time. OK, well how much of that time could have been lost just looking at the craft? Well, if each stop to look at the craft took around a half hour that moves their arrival time home to 4:30. Now lets say they spent around 20 to 30 minutes driving around slowly to look for this craft, and suddenly we are getting mighty close to them arriving home between 5 and 5:30, with the sun streaking the sky and the birds chirping. In the most charitable telling of the event from the Hill’s point of view, lets say that they spent 10 minutes each time looking at this craft, and only 10 extra minutes driving around slowly looking for the thing, that still adds 40 minutes to their trip which they likely didn’t account for when they arrived home, making their lost time between 1 and 2 hours. Probably enough time to be harassed by some aliens, but the math here can be stretched without too many unreasonable assumptions to fit this narrative pretty well.
Alright, so lets say that the Hill’s did misplace some of their time just by looking at this thing and being freaked out by it. Just what was it that they were looking at in the sky? This is actually one of my favorite theories on this case, and its one that I only really found discussed in any serious way on a single website, Neilsen Hayden.com, in an article called Making Light. Now he claims that what the Hill’s actually saw were a series of different lights throughout the mountainsides that someone whose not from the region may not be familiar with, such as fire stations, ski lift tramways, and other random lights present along these darkened areas. I think one of the strongest parts of this theory is that it is extremely easy to lose size, perspective, and movement compared to other items when they are all along a very dark background, and particularly when it is very difficult to tell the difference between the night sky and the dark, forested mountains of the New Hampshire countryside. This theory, along with the Hill’s potentially going into periods of micro-sleep during their voyage, provides likely the best skeptical explanation for what the Hill’s saw that night while still allowing that they genuinely believed that what they saw and experienced was an encounter with a UFO and the beings piloting it.
Just imagine for example, you are driving along after a weekend trip that has primarily been driving through the countryside. You find your mind is foggy, foggier than you expected when you left that restaurant in Colebrook, but your almost home. As you keep moving you find yourself feeling sort of odd, maybe having a hard time focusing on the task of driving, sort of staring off into space as you drive, just wanting to get home. During one of these periods your jolted out of your thoughts because your wife says she has been seeing strange lights in the sky along the way, one of which she now claims is following your car. You see it out of the corner of your eye as you drive, getting random glances of lights flashing in and out of view out the side windows, and you are becoming frightened. Over the next hour your fear rises considerably, as at each stop on the road you see an object that appears to have windows moving about in your binocular view but occasionally coming to a stop. At the last stop, your heart racing, you finally manage to get a good view of the thing through the binoculars, and it appears to have windows. You become extremely frightened, run back to the car, and pull away. When you arrive home you find that the entire ride home, from Colebrook to near Concord, is a blur, with you only half remembering the events as they happened. And you don’t really remember, not really, until you talk it over with your wife, piecing together what occurred on the trip that morning after you’ve finally had a chance to sleep.
I don’t think that this scenario is unlikely or impossible, and for me at least that is the strongest case to be made for the event itself being imagined. Putting that together with Betty’s previous knowledge and closeness to the UFO phenomena due to her sisters sighting I don’t think that supposing that what they saw really was a UFO is so far out of the possible. I myself have been fooled in these same mountains, seeing a light that looks to be following my car, only to realize that it is a stationary light that only appeared to be moving and getting closer due to tricks of perception of this light against the darkness of the forest, trees, and mountains. One thing that may even further hint to this scenario is the fact that Betty was quite worried about radiation when she get home, making Barney keep the luggage out of the main part of the house, throwing away any food that was in the car during their encounter, and ensuring that they both took showers. And although Betty claims that she didn’t realize that it was due to her fear of radiation until she discussed the matter with her sister on the phone, and she was an educated woman who lived through the atomic scares of the time as well as the deployment of the nuclear bombs in world war 2, just why would she jump to this conclusion if she had no prior knowledge of the UFO phenomena before this encounter? To me, this suggests at the least a passing knowledge of these sorts of events, perhaps from popular culture, or perhaps from an interest that began with her sisters supposed UFO sighting. Regardless, I think this shows that Betty at least was not a complete novice to this idea, and could very well have had influences she may not have realized shaping the event. This now takes us to the hypnosis sessions themselves.
Interestingly, the person who conducted these hypnosis sessions, Dr. Simon, believed at the end that the recalled memories the Hill’s seemed to have had been caused by Betty’s dreams after the event, and not by some actual physical encounter with aliens. And I think there is a lot of validity to this potentially. Let’s start by thinking about who encountered what in this event. Betty claimed to have only seen the thing from the car, at some distance, with her only close observation occurring through binoculars. The only person to claim to get a really good look at this thing was Barney, who got close enough supposedly to see humanoid figures starting at him through these windows, but who only really remembered to this point after the event in discussing it with others. Dr. Simon’s hypothesis was that Betty’s insistence that this was a UFO helped to shape and color the memories of Barney, who in my opinion was likely suffering from micro sleep even if he didn’t realize it, as most of us are while driving too late at night. By the two of them discussing the event further and with friends details became blurred, mixed together as they often do when two people recall an event that happened to both of them but which was charged with emotion and adrenaline. Betty’s dreams further colored the event, with Barney hearing about them through conversation Betty had in the room with him there, and which they both revealed during the cognizant part of the hypnosis sessions with Dr. Simon. This resulted in Barney inserting these figures into his memory, and recalling them during hypnosis.
And Hypnosis results can be quite difficult to interpret generally anyways. We are going to do a much fuller episode on the use of hypnosis for therapy and analysis of past memory, however some general issues can be pointed out here. First off, the use of hypnosis in recent years has fallen out of vogue in the psychiatric community, with the American Medical Association actually putting out a warning against its use for recalling memories in 1985.
We’ll put a link to this up on the website, however the abstract of that paper reads as follows:
The Council finds that recollections obtained during hypnosis can involve confabulations and pseudomemories and not only fail to be more accurate, but actually appear to be less reliable than nonhypnotic recall. The use of hypnosis with witnesses and victims may have serious consequences for the legal process when testimony is based on material that is elicited from a witness who has been hypnotized for the purposes of refreshing recollection.
In other words, memories recalled during hypnosis are less reliable than non-hypnotic memory recall, and in fact the making up or combination of memories with opinions and thoughts about an event can result in the creation of false memories. Now this isn’t to say that hypnosis can’t be a useful tool in some forms of therapy, merely that the reality of the memories recalled must be highly suspect because hypnosis in many ways makes false memories more likely. But this is basically what Dr. Simon said at the time anyways, and attempted to be careful with the Hill’s in explaining that what they recalled would not necessarily be the truth, but rather confronting this period of missing time may be useful in their recovery from anxiety. It is the Hill’s, however, who decided that what they seemed to recall during hypnosis was absolute fact.
Now even if you don’t buy the whole idea of the dreams themselves coloring the hypnosis sessions, there are problems with both of their recalls of hypnosis. Betty’s memories contain items that are not in Barney’s, while Barney’s contain some that were not a part of Betty’s. For example, Barney claimed to have been tested on sexually while Betty was not, Barney claimed the being almost spoke to him telepathically, while Betty claimed they seemed to speak to her in English, Betty claimed that she remembered being dragged to the craft and fighting off their hypnosis while Barney did not, and Betty claimed that the aliens absolutely loved Barney’s dentures while he did not. The aliens also seemed to ask a lot of very simple questions, things you would imagine an alien species capable of getting here and speaking our language could of figured out without needing to pick up a couple on their way home from vacation. For instance they didn’t know what vegetables were, they didn’t understand what time was (although as an aside this seems to be common amongst UFO cases of the time), and they didn’t know very basic things about our anatomy, all things that they could of learned in books which are a lot easier to abduct than people and very rarely tell the tale afterwards.
Now, there are other versions of the same general scenario that Dr. Simon posited, for instance the Hill’s are using this event to hide some traumatic memory that occurred on their trip, or are simply making the event up, or whatever. The Hill’s aren’t around to defend themselves anymore, and this sort of hypothesis can of course always be posited by absolute skeptics who refuse these cases out of hand. I do think, personally, that the Hill’s absolutely saw something scary that night while driving home, although weather or not that was a UFO is something we will never truly be able to know. But there is enough wiggle room here for a very strong skeptical argument to be made, both that the hypnosis was mistaken as Dr. Simon suggested, and that the sighting itself was a case of mistaken identity. But probably one of the most compelling pieces of evidence for many in this case is the Star map that Betty drew during one of her hypnosis sessions with Dr. Simon, and which she claimed the leader alien had shown her on the ship. Now what occurred with this piece of evidence is Betty drew this map based on her recalled memory during hypnosis.
A few years after the publication of “The Interrupted Journey” an amateur astronomer and School teacher, Mrs. Marjorie Fish, attempted to decipher the star map Betty made. She found that this matched with the Zeta Reticuli system, something that many in the UFO field say wouldn’t of been possible because the star system wasn’t fully analyzed until well after Betty’s initial recall of the map. Besides the fact that this star system was first published about in like the 1890’s, that isn’t really what makes this star map sort of a silly piece of evidence. Anyways, Fish then sent the star map analysis to Walter Webb, the astronomer who had first analyzed the Hill’s case for the government, and who then sent it in to the editor of the magazine Astronomy. The map was published along with info on the case, with the editors asking the public readership for their opinions. This obviously set off a firestorm, which loads of people writing in, in both support and attack of the map itself and the UFO case, including many famous astronomers such as Carl Sagan. What’s really quite interesting about this argument for the star map, and in many ways similar arguments about the placement of the pyramids, is that because the stars are so numerous and so randomly placed, and because the size of the map versus the size of the stars they are supposed to fit too can be altered at random, you can fit the star map or really any random number of points to any area of sky if you tried hard enough. It’s sort of the same argument with the astrological symbols themselves right, like cancer doesn’t actually look anything like a crab, leo doesn’t look like a lion, its all just random stars connected together to sort of kind of make a shape. And since you can pick any stars in the sky to start from, and pick and chose random ones to add to the list, you can very easily match the star chart pattern to any random assortment of stars, or points on a map for that matter. One of my favorite versions of this is the star map overlaid on a map of the New England area, showing that it perfectly lines up with Boston, Concord, Albany, Portsmouth, and a number of other towns in the general area going up to Niagara Falls. Seriously, give it a try with a detailed map of your own area, and I bet we’ll find that aliens are a lot closer than we give them credit for!!
Ok, so the Betty and Barney Hill case is, I think, given a lot more credit in the UFO community than it maybe should be. This is not the slam dunk that we want, but it still raises all kinds of weird questions. I mean, if the Hill’s didn’t see a UFO that night, isn’t that almost scarier, since it means it could happen to any of us, at almost any time that we are driving along a quite road at night? We could, tomorrow, be driving home, only to realize later that we don’t really remember what happened, can’t explain some cuts or bruises on our bodies or clothes, and maybe will never know for sure. The fact that the brain can so randomly and easily make us completely question our own sense of whats real or isn’t is to me almost scarier than the idea that its an outside but sensible force out there. And the fact is that we can’t really discount this story anyways, let alone the tens of thousands of cases reported to UFO organizations since that first case. Is something out there, taking us from our beds at night to perform experiments, or are our minds playing tricks on us while we slip between sleeping and awake? Scarily enough we may never know the answers to which of those is true, however we do know that there are those out there who claim to have been abducted, and getting to the bottom of what is happening to them is an important matter that should be taken up by science.
That’s it for this weeks episode!