This blog is dedicated to the conceptual and empirical development of parasociology, a sub-discipline of sociology studying how societies and paranormal or “psi” phenomena interact.
It looks into phenomena like UFOs, Marian Apparitions, Poltergeists, and Parapsychology.
During the interview I
gave to Tim Binnall on Binnall of America, an
important question emerged, but we did not have enough time to explore it in
full. It is the notion that the more there are control measures to observe
possible psi effects, the less likely it is to be observed. This may appear as
a paradox at first, and a convenient excuse from the sceptic point of view.
However, there are good reasons for it.
This notion is not
just a philosophical point. It is rooted in empirical observations of
spontaneous anomalies. For instance, anyone familiar with “ghost hunting” has
experienced or heard about a strange phenomenon occurring only when the equipment
has been packed up, or when the camera is not working, or the battery is dead,
or it is at the wrong angle, etc. Similarly, camera dysfunctions have plagued
the “UFO hunting” history, and even if it works it produces only vague lights, quite
different from what people saw. The Belgian UFO wave discussed in Illuminations provides specific examples
of this. Jet fighter radars oftentimes loose the “object” as soon as it can do
a lock-on. Both the Belgian and Washington D.C. UFO waves, also discussed in Illuminations, provide well-documented
examples of this “elusiveness”.
who studied psi in a laboratory setting came to similar conclusions about
micro-psi effects. In fact, this notion of evasiveness is one of the key
characteristics of psi, supported by a wide consensus among parapsychologists. Already
in the early 20th century, the philosopher and psychologist William James was
also baffled by the elusiveness of psi. He wrote in 1909:
“For twenty-five years
I have been in touch with the literature on psychical research, and have had
acquaintance with numerous “researchers.” I have also spent a good many hours
in witnessing . . . phenomena. Yet I am theoretically no “further” than I was
at the beginning; and I . . . have been tempted to believe that the Creator has
eternally intended this department to remain baffling, to prompt our hopes and
suspicions all in equal measure, so that, although ghosts and clairvoyances,
and raps and messages from spirits, are always seeming to exist and can never be
fully explained away, they also can never be susceptible to full
corroboration.” (James, 1960, p. 310).
Since then, many others
added their voice to such observation about psi phenomena. Prominent
papapsychologists already noted on this blog like Batcheldor, Beloff, Braud,
Eisenbud, Hansen, von Lucadou, and White came over the years to very similar
conclusions (Kennedy, 2003, 54). The key question is why it is so. There are no
definite answer, but there are a few key hypotheses.
The first to
propose a hypothesis, without a surprise, was the founder of scientific
parapsychology, Joseph Banks Rhine. He noted in 1946 that psi phenomena seem to
be caused by mental processes that are deeply hidden in the unconscious part of
the human mind (Rhine, 1946). The unconscious mind is not only very hard to
access (hence the challenges of clinical psychology in helping people), but it
is also something in a constant state of flux with feelings, symbolisms and
ideas brewing. Most parapsychologists today would agree that the unconscious
part of the mind plays a central role in psi phenomena, but Rhine’s explanation
about the elusiveness, in the end, is not helping much. A number of other
parapsychologists tried to find other psychological variables to explain why
psi is so elusive. Among other variables proposed to explain the situation
are: the fear of psi (only happening when the conscious mind is not in charge),
losing feelings of spontaneity during lab testing (and thus showing up again
only when spontaneity is back), and the loss of confidence and /or belief in
producing psi when there are “pressures” to perform (and thus only happening
when pressure is off). These various psychological variables are certainly
playing a role in one way or another, but it seems that they play only a
parapsychologists like George Hansen considers that psi is something dynamic
and it is the resultant of a combination of pressures, where psi will only be
observable if people find themselves in an “in-between” zone, what he called
“liminality”. Psi seems to be stuck between pressures to be used as normal
human expression and the immense pressures against any form of psi, coming from
our socialization about what is normal and society in general, but also from representatives
of established religions and various economic and political institutions, and
of course by the “police of thought and speech” found in the pseudo-sceptics and
debunkers of various kinds. In a way, it is as if there are also powerful
anti-psi fields around us, and it is only in rare occasions where the pro-psi field
energy is strong enough to be observable, and only for a short time.
In this vein, Kennedy
notes that “Bierman (2001) suggested that the number of people becoming aware
of and potentially influencing psi experiments increases as experiments are
repeated. Presumably, the background opposition to psi has an increasing role
with replication, while the motivation and novelty for the experimenters may
decline. The evidence that psi effects abruptly drop after meta-analyses
(Houtkooper, 1994, 2002) is particularly relevant” and that “If these ideas are
correct, the optimum conditions for psi results would be for one person or a
few people with psi ability to carry out self-tests with the firm constraint
that no one else will ever learn of any positive outcomes. This is consistent
with the strategy “go and tell no one” recommended by some proponents of psi
(e.g., Sinetar, 2000)” (2003, 66).
Finally, and as
discussed in Illuminations, others
like von Lucadou proposed that psi is something akin to quantum fields, where
the very fact that human consciousness is assessing if something exists in a
field makes it definite (there are no more in a state of statistical flux). It
is known as collapsing a quantum field by measurement. Psi is something that
can only happen if the various systems at play, especially the mind of the
people involved, are in a state of non-determinacy. As soon as they look carefully
for psi, their quantum-like psi field collapses, and there are no more effect
possible. For an accessible and detailed discussion of this idea, I suggest
Chris Carter’s recent book Science and
explanations are in many ways complementary to each other. The flux of the unconscious
mind, the omnipresent anti-psi pressures, and the collapse of quantum-like fields
can accommodate each other into a wider explanation.
When one think of the UFO
phenomenon, having in view the general elusiveness of the phenomenon, the OZ
factor (common altered state of consciousness among experiencers), the active
but unconscious role of the ETH ufologists in keeping the topic firmly within
the realm of the ridicule and in a near hysterical conspiratorial neurosis, and
the unavailability of producing convincing physical evidence, in spite of
having very credible experiencers, the parallel with the challenges regarding the
elusiveness of psi in parapsychology is striking.
James, W. (1960). The
final impressions of a psychical researcher. In G. Murphy & R. D. Ballou
(Eds.), William James on psychical research (pp. 309–325). New York: Viking.
J.E. (2003). “The capricious,
actively evasive, unsustainable nature of psi: A summary and hypotheses”. Journal of Parapsychology 67: 53–74.
Rhine, J. B. (1946).
The source of difficulties in parapsychology. Journal of Parapsychology10: 162–168.
There are, so far, two published
“reviews” on my book Illuminations, one in the Magonia blog by Peter Rogerson,
and another one in the Fortean Times by Jerome Clark. I put the word “review”
in quotation marks because they are not really book reviews. They are rather
what I would consider “denunciations” of someone thinking differently than
The key argument of my
book is about presenting a hypothesis, based on parapsychology, to propose an
explanation about some, but not necessarily all, UFO events. As well, faithful
to the notion of hypothesis I do not claim having the “Truth”. It seems pretty clear
that the notion of “hypothesis” has escaped these two reviewers, because in the
end their “reviews” were simply promoting their beliefs that either the
psycho-social hypothesis (PSH) can explain (implicitly ALL) UFO sightings,
or the extra-terrestrial hypothesis (ETH) is (also implicitly) the only valid
explanation for ALL truly unexplained UFO sightings. In the end, they
are both proving by their very own writing what I wrote in my Introduction: when
it comes to UFOs people are stuck between the “nil hypothesis” (in its more
sophisticated version through the PSH) and the ETH. This doctrinarian situation
is at the very core of the UFO studies problem. The letter “H” for “Hypothesis”
in “PSH” and in “ETH” is absolutely not deserved.
It is fascinating to
read people making grandiloquent claims about the superior scientific value of
the PSH, while none of their writings quote the sociological literature or used
accepted operational models from sociology and psychology. For instance, highly
relevant approaches like Berger and Luckmann’s social construction of reality, Serge
Moscovici’s social psychology of social representation, or Maurice Halbwachs’ notions
of collective memory, or even Durkheim’s concepts of collective consciousness,
are not even mentioned in their “analysis”, let alone actually used in a
scientific way. Why? Because sociologists know the limits of their science, and
therefore the PSHers would have to admit the same…a believer can’t admit having
his “truth” limited.
For the ETH, and the
focus on the physical traces (CE-2) mentioned many times by Clark, I can only
say that the greatest expert of CE-2, Ted Philips, is now agreeing that the UFO
phenomenon is at its core a paranormal event. What more could one say about
analyzing CE-2 evidence?
Finally, both Rogerson
and Clark wrote about my approach being a rehashing of the 1970s. First, I have
been clear in my book that I picked up where it was left off, because not much
of worth has been produced (with the exception of people like Vallée, Randles
and a few others who persevered) since the collective delirium caused by the
Roswell / Majestic-12 non sense. Indeed, that period was a lot ado about
nothing. I integrate a number of new ideas and concepts that did not exist in
the 1970s. Science is not about fashion, it is about research and incremental
improvement. The PSH and especially the ETH have been going nowhere for a long
time now, so it is time to resume doing serious research, based on hypotheses.
I did another interview about the book, this time on Coast to Coast with George Knapp, in the early hours of today. I also answered a few questions from listeners calling in. I hope you will find the podcast interesting, if you missed it on live radio.
I gave recently an
interview about the book to Tim Binnal, who has a very interesting website on the paranormal called Binnal of America, where one can find many podcasts with various authors and
researchers, as well as links with forward thinking writers on the topic.
The interview can be listened as podcast and it gives more details about ideas that are built-in the book. I hope you will find
it interesting and enjoyable.
The blog has been quiet for a while, but not because I was idle.
I have been working on putting a book together, and I have now found an interested publisher.
The book is focussing mostly on the UFO phenomenon, using approaches discussed in the blog. My ideas have been put together in a much more consistent and organized series of chapters, with several cases studies, also reworked to be easier to read than the blog. There is also new material, not published anywhere else. As well, I included some material I wrote in other publications that I was authorized to reproduce in the book. The book, overall, proposes an alternative and fresh look at the UFO phenomenon. I hope to have the book out in early 2015.