Eric Beckjord probably lost his audience when he claimed that aliens had sculpted a mammoth likeness of Grumpy the Dwarf among the craters of Mars.
The doctors, physicists, psychiatrists, biochemists and others who had gathered in Decatur, Ga., last weekend to discuss crop circles, remote viewing and alien abduction just weren't buying it.
"This is the kind of thing that gives the study of anomalous phenomena a bad name," grumped Col. John B. Alexander of Santa Fe, N.M., former Green Beret and military intelligence expert.
Such was the atmosphere at the fourth meeting of TREAT (Treatment and Research of Experienced Anomalous Trauma), a group founded by New York psychiatrist Rima Laibow to deal with what appeared to be post-traumatic stress in patients who claimed to have experienced alien abduction.
Dr. Laibow said the commonality of experience in the abduction community warranted serious inquiry. "These were basically healthy people who were telling absolutely incredible stories, and showing the impact of their experiences, both psychological and physical."
Since its first meeting in May 1989, TREAT has expanded its concerns to include all sorts of weird occurrences, which explains why Mr. Beckjord, director of the Center for Cryptophenomena in Malibu, Calif., was showing slides of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and other popular landmarks of the extraordinary.
The four-day meeting was far from a gathering of true believers, and was in fact notable for its lack of consensus. Proponents of telekinesis hissed the mention of dowsing (finding water with a forked stick). Theories of demonic extraterrestrials were both supported and rejected. One group listened raptly to a description of an anti-stress device called BETAR that was promptly criticized by others. The exchanges were vigorous.
"No, I have not seen any aliens, I have not been taken for a ride," said Diane Vickery, a Cincinnati psychiatrist. Yet Dr. Vickery believes that those suffering the aftereffects of what they call abductions ought to be seriously studied.
Mark Woodhouse, who teaches courses in Eastern religion and consciousness research at Georgia State University, organized this year's meeting. His interest, he says, is simply native curiosity. "I'm interested in the whole spectrum of phenomena that don't easily fit established models of explanation."
One of his students is 19-year-old Justin Beals, a BETAR operator in a Malcolm X cap, who introduces himself as a trance channeler. Mr. Beals experienced a "kundalini awakening" during one of Dr. Woodhouse's courses, he says, which led him in a roundabout way to the TREAT meeting.
"I'm interested in bringing together science and the spirit," Mr. Beals said. "It's time for both of them to shake hands."
For their $85 registration fee, about 75 guests received access to four days of lectures and workshops, complimentary beverages and entertainment by comic Steve Bhaerman, who performs in lotus position and Bozo wig as Swami Beyondananda.
"There are no flakes here," observed Mr. Bhaerman's wife, Trudy Lite, who joins her husband onstage and is a habitue of New Age seminars. "You go to other places, you get a lot more of the granola crowd."
While Mr. Bhaerman's philosophical humor is ultimately accessible, at the other extreme was the presentation by German physicist Ilobrand von Ludwiger, who spoke Sunday on UFOs and the unified field theory. With the aid of an overhead projector, he ran through dense tables of multivariable equations, to prove such theses as "particle physics theory extended into 12 dimensions thus allows full quantization."
This thrilled some and left others gasping for air.
An Emory University biochemist, who asked that his name not be used (because associations with UFOs "can be very detrimental to your professional standing") pronounced himself baffled by Dr. von Ludwiger, but impressed. "It was beyond me," he said.
For information, call TREAT headquarters at (914) 693-8827 or write to P.O. Box 728, Ardsley, N.Y. 10502-0728.