Monday, December 22, 2008

Reading Notes Various on Psi and the Collective Unconscious

Three articles from scholarly journals are reviewed. The three of them are linked, directly or indirectly to how psi phenomena and the notion of collective unconscious relate to each other. The three articles are:

Irwin, Lee. (1994). “Dreams, Theory, and Culture: The Plains vision quest paradigm”. American Indian Quarterly 18(2): 229-245.

Main, Roderick. (2006). “The Social Significance of Synchronicity”. Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society 11: 36-53.

Winkelman, Michael et al. (1982). “Magic: A theoretical reassessment”. Current Anthropology 23(1): 37-66.

Irwin’s article

This article is about the role that dreams play among Native Americans from the Plains and how dreams are integrated into their community. One of the key objectives of the author, however, is to integrate the explanation within a different framework than the one usually provided in Western psychology and science. Particularly, the author tries to avoid reducing the content of dreams to either the Freudian issue of repressed complexes, or to some sort of expression of Jungian rigid social archetypes. In other words, to understand Native people relationship to dreams, one has to step outside the usual Western ways of thinking. From this point of view, this article is interesting because it provides a different way of linking the individual’s unconscious and the collective unconscious, which can be useful to explain better psi events.

Irwin underlines that imagery (a key component of dreams) is an important element of any altered state of consciousness, and that it “has the capacity, unlike mental linguistic processes, to carry strong emotional intensity, linked with normally synthetic and integrative functions.” (p. 235) I am aware of other researches about symbolism, whereas symbols are understood as being fundamentally polysemic (having multiple meanings). The symbol’s capacity to carry knowledge (at several levels at the same time – emotional, moral, cognitive, chronological, etc) is much powerful than the linearity of rational language. It constitutes a different form of knowledge, and therefore requires an appropriate epistemology to capture fully all its richness. From that point of view, then, it is easier to understand that “for Native American visionaries, the vision cannot be accurately characterized as a purely psychological event or concept. Rather the vision is recognized as a form of encounter with mythically defined sources of personal empowerment and as a manifestation of the mysterious contents of a visionary world.” (p. 235). This is not that different from some Jungian psychologists who explain psi events as individuals accessing the collective unconscious, that they call the Absolute Knowledge. Remote viewing certainly fits this concept of Absolute Knowledge accessible to individuals.

Another point that author puts forward is that “in the Native American context, there is no separation between the world-as-dreamed and the world-as-lived. These are states integral to the unifying continuum of mythic description, narration, and enactment.” (p. 236). Then, Irwin underlines that in Western culture, there is a strict separation between the two. I am not sure it is so. To borrow from the anthropologist of science Bruno Latour book’s We Have Never Been Modern (Cambride: Harvard University Press, 2008) (originally written in French in 1997) this modern separation between the real and the fictional, between science and non-science, etc, exist mostly in the official discourse and in the academia. In the reality of ordinary Western people’s everyday life, such strict distinctions do not exist, or at least not with the same degree of force. Hence, I think that approaching the world-as-lived and the world-as-dreamed on continuum can be quite useful for assessing social psi events.

The key here is that these dreams are not only an individual’s affair. “Native American visions participate in a rich and vital process involving both creative transformation and cultural innovation as well as an affirmation of cultural continuity.” (p. 237) In other words, dreams are an expression of the imaginary, and this imaginary contributes to both cultural transformation and reinforcement of cultural patterns. Because “if the visionary dream expresses an awareness of a higher implicit order, then the explicit or manifest content of the dream would represent an ensemble or subtotality of the visionary order, particularly as embodied in dream images and objects. To enter the dream world means, in this sense, to alter consciousness and enter into an implicit dreaming order—the enfolded, psychic potential of the visionary dream—that has a structural, morphological effect on consciousness.” (p. 239)

It is a different way of expressing that the collective unconscious is both impacting the individual and impacted by individuals. The individual and collective unconscious cannot be reduced to one another, but they interact with each other through the language of symbolism, particularly when individuals are in an altered state of consciousness (such as dreaming). The question would then be: which conditions are more conducive for the collective unconscious to express itself (as it is a two-way construct)?

It is also interesting to see that the author explains the social role of dreams in a way that is reminiscent of von Lucadou’s model for poltergeists. “Members of a given community attain more powerful interpretive consistency through the continual generation of diverse interpretive frames. These frames emerge through the process of visionary experience and the subsequent integration of those experiences into unifying cultural enactments. This process allows for a fundamental pluralism at the heart of the organization of meaning in a dreaming culture and expresses a dialogical unfolding of implicit, potential forms of new or innovative order. [...] In the Native American context, the primary representation of unfolding new horizons of perception and awareness is through the manifestation of power, often as embodied in the use of dream objects.” (p.240)

In von Lucadou’s model, the focus person and the people in the environment discuss the poltergeist events and together develop interpretive frames to understand it. As the poltergeist continues to “act up” further interpretations confirming the first ones are put forward. Given that the frames are themselves symbolic by granting a status of living entity to the poltergeist, a pluralism of views about the same events can be generated without “damaging” the process of the unfolding poltergeist. When the so-called naive observes arrive, people who are sharing a paranormal culture oftentimes unknowingly, they integrate the events into a larger framework and thus provide further indeterminacy to the phenomenon (i.e., it becomes even more mysterious). It is only when the critical observers and the rest of the “Western society” gets involved that the indeterminacy is closed off by assigning a very narrow and specific meaning to the events (i.e., lies and hallucinations). In other words, the imaginary cannot act anymore.

It is yet another element indicating that the power of the imaginary is a key component of psi effects. Along the same line of thought, one can think about the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (Atria Books, 2006), which describes a process of altering one’s unconscious in believing that he/she deserves what he/she dreams about, and then imagine it happening. In a sense, it is a diffused form of psi, yet observable, created by using the imaginary. In this case, it is rather a series of synchronicity getting the right people, events and information in one’s path at the right time. As well, one can think of the famous Philip experiment (Iris M. Owen and Margaret Sparrow. Conjuring up Philip: An Adventure In Psychokinesis. Harper & Row, 1976) that through imagination, a group of psychic researchers “created” a spirit leading to psi effects (PK among other things).

Such imaginary should also act at the level of the collective unconscious. In 1947, people in the United States collectively were unconsciously imagining new horizons (maybe caused by the emerging Cold War and the emerging possibility of nuclear annihilation), and Kenneth Arnold unintentionally gave them an interpretative frame, at the right time. The unfolding of events can then be understood with a macro-level use of von Lucadou’s model: i.e. the naive observers (the ETH ufologists) can shield the internal portion of the phenomenon from the critical observers (the authorities and the pseudo-sceptics). Society, in this case, plays a different role than in the original model as it is not that sceptical, as Latour has shown. Society can actually reinforce the naive observers’ impact on the phenomenon rather that weakening it. I would also add that as the naive observers get organized in a “scientific” way, the phenomenon is reduced in its indeterminacy as the range of possibilities is also reduced. Strange objects become flying saucers; various aliens become Grays, etc. Yet, the imaginary power of the collective unconscious is never fully “controlled” and new forms appear like triangular alien ships. It is likely that the “canonical” list of alien entities put forward by MUFON and the like will just be blown up by new types of “entity sightings”. The imaginary power of the collective unconscious will be “unleashed” as people get unconsciously “bored” of the Greys. (This is a reasoned predictive statement, should it occur, parasociology will be in good shape!).

Main’s article

In this article, the author tries to show that Jung’s concept of synchronicity can be useful to social sciences. Although it is clear that Jung was preoccupied by the state of Western societies, in particular the problem of modernity and its associated issues of materialism, mass-mindedness and collective neurosis, his approach remains essentially reductionist. Main provides a quote from Jung that could not be clearer: “The collective consciousness gives way to the collective unconscious, which is entirely psychical, not social. The end point of individuation is a pure and intensely privatized self, liberated from all obligations imposed from without by the social order” (p. 37). As discussed in previous posts, the individual unconscious is built on and with the social realm. The unconscious is filled with language, symbols, social rules, etc., that can only be meaningful if there is a culture existing independently from the individuals. Hence, the collective unconscious is much better understood as a social object, independent from the individuals. As well, Main underlines that Jung does not see his archetypes, the key foundation of the collective unconscious, as being socially constructed. This is also another important problem in Jung’s approach. The actual content of the collective unconscious is important, not only the structure that may hold it.

Main, an expert of Jung’s writings, confirms what was already discussed in previous posts. However, there are some elements of Jung’s approach that can be made useful through lateral thinking. As Main states, “synchronicity is socially significant here in two senses: first, it is a form of occurrence that reverses the historical process according to which ‘the symbolical unity of spirit and matter fell apart, with that result that modern man finds himself uprooted and alienated in a de-souled world’; and second, it provides a framework for understanding the manner in which symbols compensating social crises may emerge into both private and public consciousness” (p. 45). This is certainly reminiscent of Irwin’s approach to Native American views where there is no sharp distinction between the world-as-lived and the world-as-dreamed. The collective unconscious, in its non-reductionist and non-archetypical version, can be construed as expressing itself through various means such as synchronicity. For instance, one can make a clear connection between this view of synchronicity and Michal Ginach’s analysis of what the Israeli society is unconsciously dreaming about, as discussed in a previous post. The collective actions of the State of Israel, by their timing and their acasual symbolic impact can be construed as a synchronistic way of granting its unconscious wishes.

It is also interesting to note that synchronicity is an expression of the imaginary. As Jung wrote (quoted in Main), “ ‘Meaning arises not from causality but from freedom, i.e., acausality [synchronicity]’. [...] The related quality of creativity, also much valued by Jung, is similarly affirmed insofar as ‘synchronicity represent a direct act of creation which manifests itself as chance’. “ (p. 46) Once again, one can make a link with Irwin’s idea that “in the Native American context, the primary representation of unfolding new horizons of perception and awareness is through the manifestation of power, often as embodied in the use of dream objects”, and Byrne’s key ideas found in The Secret. It is in situations of “free-play” that new meaning can be generated (and by extension synchronistic and psi-related events).

One can also find an unusual concept of social responsibility in Jung. Main quote Jung stating that “anyone who has insight into his own actions, and has thus found access to the unconscious, involuntarily exercises an influence on his environment” (p. 47). For Main “this outlook has far-reaching ethical implications, for it implies that the psychic states of one person, whether positive or negative, can synchronistically ‘affect’ the states or actions of others.” (p. 47). In plain language, it means that every one of us should be careful for what we wish for, as it can be realized through synchronicity.

This relates once more to Ginach’s analysis of the Israeli social unconscious of wishing to be victimized through war. But I would go one step further. If synchronicity is the observable psi effect of what we are wishing for, either as individual or as a collective, it appears also that what we are wishing for is to be found at different levels of unconscious depth. What I mean here is that someone may be more or less consciously wishing something and this may happen by synchronicity. But in the case of poltergeists, what is wished for is deeply buried and it is expressed through much more ostentatious forms of psi effects (i.e., uncontrollable psychokinesis). Drawing the parallel with the social unconscious, is it possible that UFO phenomena are also expressions, through psi effects, of deeply buried collective creative wishes or imaginary forms? I think there is a direct relationship between the unconscious depth of the imaginary and the intensity of a psi effect. As it is buried deeper, the human imaginary capabilities can be unleashed with greater freedom from the inherent limiting role of consciousness. From a methodological standpoint, this can create a serious problem. As one needs to look deeper into the collective unconscious, the more difficult it is to access and interpret it. However, the symbolic content of the social psi remains available, and can be used to trace back some of imaginary processes at play.

For instance, someone pointed out to me an unusual UFO sighting that occurred on 24 October 2008 near Empire, Ohio. After some further thinking, I can see that there is a symbolic element to it. The key witness is quoted saying that: "When I saw it, I was trying to take everything in and that's immediately what I thought when I saw it – that it was organic. That's the feeling that I got. I didn't think it could be anything else. It just came across as something organic" (see link above). Empire, Ohio is not far from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the University of Pittsburgh is actively engaged in a range of leading-edge biological research, including sponsoring a research centre on fighting bio-terrorism. Could it be that the witnesses saw a gigantic virus, as an expression of some deeply buried collective and unconscious fears and maybe premonitions? This is speculation, of course, but should a major viral issue emerge in the near future (like finding a highly contagious strain of the dreaded avian flu) and that the University of Pittsburgh would be somehow involved in such finding, this would constitute another reasoned predictive statement based on parasociology.

Winkleman’s article

This is an older article dating back to 1982. However, it is useful as it provides an interesting comparison between magic and psi, in the context of anthropological research. Winkleman provides a long list of anthropologists who studied magical rituals and observed what we would call psi effects. He identifies a series of common enablers between magic and psi, to include altered states of consciousness, visualisation (i.e., belief that the desired effect can be produced), positive expectations (i.e., disbelievers negatively impact the possibility of producing psi effects), and belief (general belief in a community about the existence of magic). These findings remain valid today.

One of the key differences, however, is that magic is construed as mana, emanating from non-human sources. “Psi lacks spirit, god, and personalized conceptions; it is characterized almost exclusively as an impersonal force, akin to electromagnetic energy. [But] both are used to refer to a non-physical power operating outside the known physical laws or normal courses of nature and outside of normal space-time constraints. Both are at once means of action and milieux as well as fundamental processes of nature.” (p. 39)

The author makes an indirect link with the notion of imaginary (i.e., as unbounded possibilities) when he compares how PK and magic are understood. “Mauss characterizes magical acts as placing objects or beings ‘in a state so that certain movements, accidents, or phenomena will inevitably occur’ or bringing them in a dangerous state; he emphasizes the role of chance and the necessarily indeterminate nature of the outcome” (p. 39). Then Winkelman states that “one of the principal early findings of PK research was that systems with a greater degree of randomness were more easily influenced [...] and that ‘changes in the state of the physical system may in some sense be opportunities for PK influence to occur’”(p. 40). This is an interesting statement as balls of light, and other plasma-related phenomena are actually objects in unstable physical conditions. Hence, I would say that balls of light are both enablers and carrier of psi effects, expressed in our modern days in the form of UFOs and alien ships.

Another important linkage between both magic and psi is the role of emotional bursts. “Spontaneous paranormal experiences generally occur during dreams, in response to strong emotional experiences of others, particularly accident of death, and between members of the same family or close friends” (p. 40). Winkleman adds that parapsychology found that the same process occurs with poltergeists phenomena, and during events of psychotic breaks or crisis. Then, he mentions that “Malinovski suggests that magic arises from spontaneous ideas and reactions when the rational processes and known means of resolving problems have been exhausted; this implicates unconscious (or primary) thought processes as basic to magic” (p. 40). Once again, there are good reasons to think that spontaneous psi effects, like UFO and UFO waves, should be related to some strong emotional tensions.

The author tries to develop a different perspective about magic, and in particular he tries not to explain magic as simply a ritualized expression of social forms, which is the common anthropological view of magic. And this is the other side of reductionism, i.e., individual thought and beliefs are reduced to social forms and social constructs implicitly imposing themselves to all. He does not attempt to introduce concepts such as the collective unconscious, but he nevertheless proposes that the “destruction of traditional social systems with the worldwide advance of industrial society has destroyed many magical systems, but numerous practices survive and require investigation to determine their possible empirical and experiential base” (p. 44). In a way, a collective unconscious that is conducive to psi-effect is a key enabler. As there are UFO sightings on a regular basis, and UFO waves at various intervals, one can think that there must be a social system supporting the phenomena. The ETH community is in a way a magical system, but a magical system “twisted” or adapted to our time, as it ascribes a technical and materialistic reality to something for which no positive proof exists of its material “nut and bolts” reality. As well, like the mana of magic, the origins of the phenomenon are assigned to n on-human entities (either ETs or inter-dimensional beings). The magical community, however, does not have to be the “focus person” to use von Lucadou’s model, but rather the “naive observers” shielding the inner system from the critical observers.

Break for the Holiday Season

I will take a break for the Holiday Season, with my next post in early to mid-January.

Santa is supposed to deliver some more good books for me. So there is more to come.

I wish you all a Good Holiday Season and a Happy New Year (and remember wishes might be more powerful than we think...)

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reading Notes Heavenly Lights: Apparitions of Fatima and the UFO Phenomenon

As discussed in my last post, I decided to read the book by Joaquim Fernandes and Fina D’Armada, Heavenly Lights: The Apparitions of Fatima and the UFO Phenomenon (San Antonio: Anomalist, 2005). This is actually a slightly revised edition of an older book by the same authors published in 1982 under the title Extraterrestrial Intervention at Fatima: The Apparitions and the UFO Phenomenon (New York: Dial Press). The 2005 edition has a preface from Jacques Vallée. It is also part of a larger study that includes two additional volumes with the same publisher: Celestial Secrets: The Hidden History of the Fatima Incident (2007), and Fatima Revisited: The Apparition Phenomenon in Ufology, Psychology, and Science (2008), co-authored with Raul Berenguel. The three volumes constitute a “transdisciplinary study by the Multicultural Apparitions Research International Academic Network (Project MARIAN) at the University Fernando Pessoa in Porto, Portugal” according to the book description.

The book contains extensive and meticulous analyses of the events surrounding the alleged Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. The analysis is based on evidence from primary sources, however, it is interpreted from an ETH perspective.

Importance of Social Dynamics

The authors provide an interesting sociological analysis to show that the phenomenon was not construed, at first, as a Marian apparition by the three children involved. The kids were not sure as to who was the beautiful lady they claim to have seen. The pressures from the environment made them accept that it was the Virgin Mary, as the monthly apparitions unfolded between May and October 1917. Furthermore, there was a clear institutional process put in place to ensure that it remained so. Not only the site became a pilgrimage destination, but Lucia, the leader of the children, was essentially taken away by the Catholic Church at 15 years old and put in a convent. With the exception of her family, anyone else who wanted to meet with her had to get permission from Rome, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (previously known as the Holy Inquisition)!

This reminds me of von Lucadou psycho-social model for poltergeists. The children were essentially the focus person of these events, and the only one who could see the apparition. Their immediate environment, family, neighbours, and local catholic clergy interpreted the events as a Marian apparition. The naive observers, from outside town, as well as the authorities of the Catholic Church were able essentially to shield the children from the critical observers, and hence the phenomenon could continue, and continue as a Marian apparition. Although some republican and atheist Portuguese were critical, in the very Catholic Portugal of 1917, the critical observers had no chance.

The authors also mentioned, in passing, a Mexican book by Salvador Freixedo, La Religion entre la Parapsychologia y los Ovnis (Mexico: Orion, 1977) who evoked the possibility that UFOs may be a projection of the collective unconscious. Once again, it does not appear that this idea was studied in any detail. However, they reject Freixedo’s idea and embrace ideas that are “more rational and economical” (p. 24) such as the ETH.

Mindset and the paranormal

The authors are quite critical of the attitude people had in those days. They underlined that there was only two attitudes possible: either it is a hoax, or it is the Virgin Mary. In particular, they found the idea that “who else could it be but our Lady” as being narrow-minded and limited. Ironically enough, almost 100 years later, we are in a very similar setting. Either UFOs are hoaxes or they must be ET spacecraft, no room for a “third way” as they complain in the Introduction. Unfortunately, I would say that their book is guilty of a similar attitude, as it is essential written to show “who else but ETs are behind all this”.

Many of the analyses they provide could be interpreted differently than a visit from an ET spacecraft. For instance, many people heard a buzzing or humming sound; heard large noise similar to the thunder but “as if coming from an underground source”; strange clouds; luminous objects; and ramps of light. These are also the hallmarks of balls of light. Although they briefly discuss the issue of altered state of consciousness at the end, it is not used to analyze the impact on people, animals and the overall perception of the entity. Even for the issue of telepathy between the children and the entity was proposed as being focused microwave energy that resonates in their cranium ... I wonder how rational and economical is this? The issues of altered state of consciousness and telepathy as psi effects are also known to be related to balls of light. They have also several pages on angel hair, which are also directly related to more mundane paranormal phenomena and akin to ectoplasm. No ETs are needed to have angel hair.

One quote they use to support their thesis, and in rejection of any psychosociological explanation, is borrowed from an article by Pierre Guérin: “if any themes exist associated with close encounters with UFOs or alien contact, they are apparently charged with unconscious human content; other themes, on the other hand, are almost systematically absent from UFO manifestations, near or far, like war, violence, and sexuality, that have profound roots in our psyches. In this way, one can see the profound originality of the phenomenon by that which is clearly demarcated, which the unconscious human mind would naturally segregate.” (p. 234)

I am sorry, but there is nothing more untrue than this. The contactees’ era was all about avoiding a nuclear war between the superpowers, even the Fatima story had the First World War as part of the discussion with the entity. Clearly, it was part of the human psyche while UFO events occurred. Violence and sexuality are essentially synonymous with alien abductions, not to mention many episodes where there are allegedly violent, hairy and ugly entities. Indeed, from the point of view of human psyche, there is nothing original about the UFO phenomenon if compared with other paranormal phenomena.

The Miracle of Sun during the last apparition, the heavy argument in the book, could also be construed as a ball of light. The authors focus quite a bit on the “ladder” seen on Sun (the ladder is interpreted as being windows in a series, like on a school bus), yet there was only one couple who saw that, while there was an estimated 50,000 people at the site who saw nothing of it (rational and economical?).

Just to make the point clearer, I would like to quote an article from Richard Wittman, “Flying Saucers or Flying Shields”. Classical Journal 63 (1968): 223-226. Wittman quotes Cicero’s De re publica (written between 51 and 54 B.C.) where “Laelius scold the young Tubero for being overly interested in a celestial phenomenon which had been reported to the Roman Senate. A second sun had been seen. Laelius reminds Tubero that he should be more interested in the civil disorders occurring in Rome ‘before his very eyes’.” (p. 223) General similarities to the Fatima story are there, but it is two thousand years before. Either we, human, are very interesting to the ETs so that they are studying us for thousands of years (and still trying to figure out who we are? Maybe they are not that smart after all?). Or, more rationally and economically speaking, there are no the ETs but something else going on.

Most of their comparative analysis between the Fatima events and recorded UFO experiences is very selective. The rational for inclusion and rejection of cases is not addressed at all. Hence, beyond showing superficial similarities between certain UFO events and Fatima, no substantive explanatory statement can be put forward based on ufological knowledge. Lastly, nowhere the authors really envisioned seriously the possibility of psi effects. I do not know what happen in Fatima in 1917, and actually no one seems to know, but there are other possibilities than the ETH.


It is overall a very well-researched book that deals with primary sources. From that point of view, the authors should be praised. However, their analysis is very biased, and makes one question the integrity of their interpretation. Maybe the third volume (2008) brings a more nuanced perspective as the title implies, but I think it is rather an attempt to reconcile two faiths given it is part of the MARIAN project: the UFO story and the religious interpretation. Once again, the “third way” is likely to be overlooked.

So, how much useful is this for studying UFO waves? It is yet another example that shows that von Lucadou’s model is actually robust.

It can also be useful to note that the first Portuguese military contingent to arrive on the Western front was in April 1917. The first unit to be deployed on the front was on 11 May 1917, and the first brigade being fully deployed at the end of May 1917. The last brigade was fully deployed in October 1917. According to one military history website, "The 1st Brigade took its assigned place at the frontline by 30 May 1917, the 2nd Brigade by 16 June, the 3rd Brigade by 10 July, and the 4th Brigade by 23 September of the same year." Interestingly enough, in August 1917, the children were a no show at the site, as they were held up by the anti-clerical mayor of a nearby town, and there was no Portuguese military deployment for August 1917. Synchronicity?

This fits the exact timeline of the Fatima events. By 1917, the horrors of the new technological war were well-known, but not experienced yet by the Portuguese themselves. Beyond anxiety, it was a big effort for a small, relatively poor and close-knit country like Portugal. Put in its larger context, the parasociological framework developed so far appears to fit. Like in the US (and the Roman republic!), UFO waves (or equivalent) tend to occur in times of serious tensions in political and military affairs.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reading Notes Various on the Collective Unconscious

Here are my notes about three articles from academic journals dealing with the concept of the collective unconscious. They are:

Furth, Hans G. “Psychoanalysis and Social Thought: The endogenous origin of society”. Political Psychology 13 (1992): 91-104.

Ginach, Michal. “War Against or For Terrorism?: The underlying fantasy behind the Israeli pattern encounter with the Palestinian”. Discourse of Sociological Practice 6 (2004): 1-12.

Hayes, Charles. “Black Hole: Jung meets astronomy”. Journal of Religion and Psychical Research 13 (1990): 3-14.

Furth’s article

His article proposes a review of psychoanalytical theory in view of linking it to sociological theory. It is interesting, and unusual, as most people who try to link the two realm are usually reductionists. They try to reduce sociological theory to individual psychology. Furth proposes that the individual’s unconscious is created in relation to social forces. The unconscious is shaped by the “acquisition of societal language, awareness of societal rules and roles, and most significantly, the formation of a mental world (fantasy, imagination, play). All these accomplishment are evidence of a spontaneous societal construction on the part of children. Social pretend play can be most obviously interpreted as the free creation of a symbolic microsociety” (p. 99)

And then again, he underlines that: “societal grouping, symbolic values and ideals, norms of conduct, role of ages and gender, strategies of domination/submission and cooperation, search for mutual respect, a conventional communication, all these are constitutive of a human society and at the same time, are precisely the psychological acquisition that spontaneously come to fore in the age period from 2 to 6.” (p. 99)

Based on the above, it possible to understand that “the personal unconscious as a part element within a more global psychological structure which I like to call the social, or better, the societal unconscious. Since, as we have seen above, children’s chief object in their mental construct is a societal world, primal repression of these constructions takes on a societal character.”(p. 101)

Another important point, he underlines that “Castoriadis (1987), [...] point to the unconscious nature of underlying our most basic social institutions. A societal unconscious is posited alongside the personal unconscious which Freud had described. And insofar as Freud establishes a science of the unconscious to explain its origin and functioning within the individual, this same discipline appear naturally as the preferred, if not the required, method to probe the unconscious forces within society. In sum, unconscious forces (in the Freudian sense) are said to operate within and shape the structure of our societal and political institutions [...]” (pp. 95-96).

Ginach’s article

His article is really about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but what makes it really interesting for my project are the methodology and the concepts he is using to understand the collective unconscious. His main argument is inspired by the analysis of Slavoj Zazek, who argued that the tragedy of 9/11 in the United States was “provoked” by the fantasy produced by Hollywood prior to 2001 about major terrorist attacks against the U.S. mainland. The American collective unconscious came to “wish” for such an attack, and it did occur. Ginach proposes a similar analysis about the Israeli society. This argument is not based on parapsychology, but rather as a sociological and political science application of psychoanalysis. (However, parapsychologists have noted that unconsciously “wishing” for something plays a role in creating psi effects). This type of research clearly fits in with what some call the “depth sociology”, as it involves looking into “people’s social unconscious to search for pre-axiomatic premises that structure their shared knowledge” (p.1).

Ginach also builds on the concept of imagined societies in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities—Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983) (here a direct link can also be made with Castoriadis’ L’institution imaginaire de la société (Paris: Seuil, 1975)). The key here is that any society, to be self-recognized as being a society, needs to invent itself collectively (hence, the key role of nationalism and of social institutions). For instance, the “Canadian“ is a 19th century invention built on the prior invention of the “Canadien” (i.e., before the word “French” was added by hyphenation to the word “Canadian/Canadien”). The word “Québécois” is, similarly, another invention of the 1950s and 1960s. Before that the word was used only to identify people from the Quebec City. This shows how communities, to exist, need to invent themselves, and people to truly believe in it. What fills the content of these invented communities becomes unconscious overtime. It is shared through innocuous day-to-day activities, through literary work, governmental policies, artistic activities, etc. Parts of its content, however, remains collectively conscious under what is called the collective memory (i.e. historical events that are considered as particularly meaningful). The selection of which events is to be remembered, however, is itself a matter of political power. For instance, in English-Canada events related to the British presence were remembered actively until the 1970s, but were gradually changed for events that underline the multicultural nature of Canada. This shift was due to a major power shift among the elite from more conservative people to more liberal (particularly under Trudeau’s reign).

Ginach, quoting John Gillis states that “identities and memories are not things we think about, but things we think with ... they have no existence beyond our politics, our social relations, and our histories”. (p. 2). Then, he goes further in stating that this identity is both filled with myths, legends, and official history (p.3). This is an important point for parasociology. If the belief in the paranormal plays an important role in creating psi effects, then a collective acceptation of particular myths about the paranormal is an important indicator to identify.

From a methodological standpoint, studying the unconscious is always problematic because it is trying to find what is not said. Ginach proposes some useful methodological tips. He used interviews and focus group with ordinary people, as well as doing narrative analysis of newspaper to “decipher an underlying world-view behind this shared political discourse that may also fit the symbolic meaning of various political actions and strategies of Israel” (p. 1). He uses a psychoanalytic framework in trying to identify what Israelis refuse to know (p. 3). Lastly, he proposes that his “reading takes clues from what is not said, from the timing of Israeli actions and their meaning in relation to the particular situation at the moment, and from the Israeli form of response to Palestinian attacks” (p. 4).

From a parasociology standpoint this is useful. The same concepts and methodology can be used for assessing the collective unconscious of particular communities, and contrast such assessment with the particular personality found in RSPK (see Roll) and the psycho-social dynamics of RSPK (see von Lucadou). From a pragmatic standpoint, it would be probably easier to start with communities which have ongoing Sasquatch and other strange creature sightings. This is closer to RSPK than UFO waves are, as the latter tend to be much more unpredictable. I am starting to think that UFO waves have probably more in common with phenomena like the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, as they are more intense, more public, but also more short-lived. (Joaquim Fernandes and F. D’Armada. Heavenly Lights: The apparition of Fatima and the UFO phenomenon. San Antonio: Anomalist, 2005, is next on my list).

Hayes’ article

Hayes’ article is about comparing the knowledge in physics about black holes to the knowledge of the unconscious. The article is not terribly convincing, and the main topic is outside the realm of my project. However, he has an interesting paragraph about studying the collective unconscious that made me think.

“This is a journey of myth-telling, in which art, science, and psychology are combined into a phenomenon which may or may not exist in literal concrete terms, but which does exist as a matter of the human soul. It is spoken by the soul as a metaphor for what appears to be a collective disease – i.e., an image of ‘anxiety and feeling of one’s self being drawn into a void’. And in most severe forms, it becomes the absorption of the conscious life into deep unconscious recessions brought about trauma or repression of psychic content (archetypes) that are denied conscious acknowledgement and assimilations” (p. 4).

This quote, put in parallel with Ginach methodology, brings further refinement. Parasociology should look for actions that need to be done by a community to improve its lot, but that are not done, and that not doing it (and its implications) is not even discussed. A covert, not acknowledged and not act upon collective anger and frustration should be a key variable in communities experiencing collective RSPK-like events. So, instead of looking at collective actions as Ginach proposes, I should look into counter-productive collective inactions.

Key points to remember

The social, or collective, unconscious can also be studied as a more dynamic reality than what Jung proposes with his system of genetically grounded archetypes. As Furth shows, in the individual unconscious there are a number of constituting processes that can only be understood when put in direct relation with specific social constructs of a given culture or society. But the content of the individual and social unconscious reflect each other, as individuals are also partakers of society. But the correspondence between the individual and the social unconscious is not reducible to one another, nor is it symmetrical. The structure of the individual unconscious is in a way a mini social unconscious, set in a manner that reminds me of fractal structures (forms repeating itself but at a different scale, and while smaller structures are found in an imbricate way within the larger ones. Fractals are a very common structure in nature. Here are two graphic examples of fractal structures.

Then, if the individual unconscious produces psi, there are very good reason to think that the social unconscious is producing psi as well.

In the same line of thinking, some argue that the arts are what give us access to the unconscious of a society. As well, many future social forms are pre-figured in the arts. This is the argument put forward by Zizek (and used by Ginach). I would go one step further, and say that artistic work in a society is what remote-viewing is to individuals. Both draw and describe what they see, both seem to mix the present and the future, both are mixing up “analytical overlay” with the psi signal. The French historian of science, François Favre, stated that psi is actually a very common thing, even something banal. I must say that he may right after all.

To use Ginach’s approach, societies (like individuals) have an identity and the content of such identity informs us of both the collective consciousness and unconscious. The key, to access the social unconscious is to see what is not found in the consciousness (official discourse, common views, etc). Furthermore, collective actions or inaction can inform us of the actual content of the unconscious. For instance, at one point I was an industrial development officer and I went to a community in Northern Ontario that lost its main industry (a mine). The town was depressed and run down, and so were the people. They claimed to be proud people, but they unconsciously did everything to sabotage the possibility to access the funding program I was in charge of managing. Their action (or inaction) spoke a lot about the true self identity that is unconsciously lived by that community. Hence, from a methodological standpoint, Ginach’s approach appears sound to me. Once again, such an approach can be useful to identify “personality traits” of a community, and try to link it up with RSPK-like events.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Friday, December 5, 2008

Reading Notes Vallée’s UFO Chronicles of the Soviet Union

I found a lesser known book from Jacques Vallée, UFO Chronicles of the Soviet Union: A cosmic samizdat. (New York: Ballantine, 1992). It was one of his last books before he decided to quit ufology in the mid-1990s (and he does not hide his bitterness towards ETH ufology in the book). It is a relatively short book, 212 pages, written out of a quick visit he made in the then Soviet Union in January 1990, only two years before the coup in Moscow that lead to the end of the Soviet Union. It was, therefore, during the most open period of that regime’s history. During his stay, which was arranged through the Novosti press agency, he met the most prominent scientists in the Soviet Union who studied UFOs. Again, this was possible mainly because it was during the Glasnot years of the Gorbatchov era, and because of Vallée’s reputation as a credible ufologist. Most of the book is about comparing details of observations made in the Soviet Union to ones in the West. Below are the most salient features.

Similarities in findings

The main finding by Vallée is that, indeed, the data emerging from the Soviet Union are similar to the ones in the West. The USSR experienced at least three major UFO waves: in 1966-67, between 1977 and 1979, and 1989. The Soviet government established research committees to study the question after the beginning of the second wave in 1976, and they were not able to explain the phenomenon after 10 years of research. In the end, it was officially stated that all UFO could be explained by mistakes, unusual natural phenomena, or hoaxes. However, the scientists who persevered in studying UFOs (at their own risk) did not jump to the ETH conclusion.

Sightings were varying from bright spheres to what appears to be manufactured crafts. Humanoids, like in the West, were of many different shapes and forms, however, they often tended to be taller that humans (the famous Grays of the West are actually only one type among hundreds reported in the West – has an extensive database of CE3 reports and one can see how much variety there is). Altered states of consciousness were noted in many reports. I am wondering if tall people have a particular symbolic meaning in Russian culture (Vallée did not discussed it).

Another key finding was also matching a finding that Vallée had to repeat to Western ufologists over and over (without being heard) that UFOs tend to be polymorphous. UFOs tend to change shape and form during a same event (this one of Vallée’s main arguments against the ETH). The Soviets found that 75% of sightings involve a shape change, and they identified 149 types of change or shape transition.

Another interesting point they found is about submarine UFOs following Soviet submarines. I do not know how plasma can fare in water, but this is intriguing.

Parapsychology and UFOs

Vallée observed that in the Soviet Union, scientists were more willing to entertain the idea that UFOs were somehow related to topics in parapsychological research. This was a major difference with the United States where the ETH was the only acceptable view in ufology (and still is nowadays). One of the main linkages was the use of “biolocation” or radiesthesia, which involves the “detection of hidden minerals, water, or living entities by paranormal means. Dowsers often use a pendulum, a rod, or a stick for such work” (p. 5). Through the book, Vallée is fascinated by this issue, and tries to get the Soviet scientists to explain to him why they give credence to such a technique, and why it is relevant to UFO research. He never really got his answer, except to say that according to Soviet scientists, when UFOs are landing, they leave a signature where “the bioenergy level is nil” (p. 44). In other words, UFOs appear to “suck-up” vital energy in CE2 and CE3. This is an interesting observation, although as Vallée noted, it is hard to figure out how they can make such evaluation with radiesthesia techniques.

What I found surprising, however, is how Vallée did not connect the dots. He was aware of some of the research done in parapsychology in the Soviet Union, as he mentions the book of Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain (New York: Bantam, 1970), which discusses at length the Soviet research in bioenergy fields, and about Kirlian photography. Furthermore, their book provides a drawing of a dowsing rod identical to the one Vallée provides on p. 88. Twenty additional years of research in bioenergy field (1970 to 1990) might have yield some interesting results, or at very least it is long enough to create a matter-of-factness about it that would explain the attitude of the Soviet scientists. Then, we know now that Vallée was somewhat involved with the military remote-viewing programme at the SRI (and he refers to the remote-viewing project on p. 9). He surely figured out that bioenergy fields research in the Soviet Union was similarly funded by intelligence and military agencies, and that his hosts could not speak more.

In any event, this adds some more material to connect the biological ontological level with other levels of reality. Particularly, could it be that social psi and bioenergy fields influence each other? This could be an entry point for those interested in the Gaia hypothesis.

Other linkages

Vallée mentions on p. 77 that,“During the cold war the Kremlin regarded such observations [UFO reports] as a psychological warfare ploy master-minded by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. Soviet officials thought that such “hysterical” rumors were deliberately planted to create unhealthy agitation and fear among socialist countries, taking the workers’ attention away from productive pursuits.”

In the light of Greg Bishop’s Project Beta, the Soviet assessment of the situation was quite accurate. Given that the Soviets were spying a lot on the US, their arch-rival, it appears reasonable to think that, indeed, they figured out the American ploy. This adds even more weight to the rejection of the Roswell-Majestic conundrum.

Vallée made another comment that I can only relate to parasociology, and to the study done by Martin Kottmeyer “UFO flaps”, The Anomalist 3: 64-89, where he found a link between difficult social and political contexts and UFO waves. Vallée wrote in discussing the changes occurring in Gorbatchov’s Soviet Union:

“Once again, history had overtaken ideology. An enormous vital change was sweeping half the planet, catching all the bureaucracies by surprise: they could take their briefing and shove it! Was the UFO wave of 1989 in the Soviet Union only a symptom, or was it a deep factor in the change? In either case, I now realized, it could not be separated from the historical events that carried it.” (p. 25).

This is overall an easy read. The book is written mostly at the first person, and it reads like a novel. Although other texts have been written since about Soviet and Russian ufology, it is the only one which was written when the researchers were still working for the Soviet Union. Although they could not be open about certain classified projects (essentially in parapsychology), on the other hand they were not contaminated by the ETH and thus were quite candid about other aspects of their research (like biolocation). It is refreshing to see that, indeed, not all roads lead to the ETH.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Interim Summary and First Draft of an Analytical Model – Part 2

The ontological levels cannot be reduced to one another. For instance, physics is not of much use to study environmental ecosystems; biology is not effective to understand cultural variations; psychology is not very good at explaining social phenomena such as social classes, etc. Yet, ontological levels do interact, and at times overlap. Any attempt to provide an analytical model for the study of UFO waves, must also take into account such interactions. In fact, any scientific progress is likely to occur by exploring those interacting and overlapping dimensions of reality. So far, it is possible to envision the following linkages.

Physical and Biological ontological intersections

Following Budden here, it appears that exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) can cause biological hypersensitivity to EMF, as well as other diseases like cancer. EMF can also induce altered state of consciousness. Conversely, it is known that living organisms produce also their own, albeit weak, EMF. It is important to underline that the intersection works both ways, as the biological can influence the physical too. Hence, one should expect, at least in theory, that balls of light might also react to living organisms’ EMF. Although this is internal coherent with what is known, there is little empirical evidence available to support this. But this could constitute an interesting avenue for research.

Physical and Psychological ontological intersections

Following the work of Persinger, it is clear that EMF can have an impact on human perception. Research in parapsychology has also shown that the human mind can also have an impact electrical apparatuses like computers, light bulbs, and of course random number generators. Paul Devereux in his research on Earthlights (Earthlights (Wellingborough: Turnstone Press, 1982)suggested that they seem to react to human action and thought. Pierre Vieroudy came to the same conclusions while doing his empirical research on psi generated UFOs. This is certainly an important aspect of the UFO phenomena that the interaction between balls of light and the human mind can go both ways. This also opens the possibility that the actual content of UFO experience is in part objectively created by the human mind.

Another aspect of mind-over-matter, but more controversial, yet with some evidence to support it, is the issue of materialization. As the historian of science François Favre has shown, there was a lot of quality empirical research done in the early 20th century on materialization that is now almost completely forgotten. These materialization included also manufactured objects. Carl Jung in his book Flying Saucer discusses himself witnessing materialization without having any doubts about it. Research on poltergeist also discusses of cases of materialization. For instance, during the famous German poltergeist event of Rosenheim in 1967, bricks were seen coming out of a house while no bricks were found on the front lawn. As well, a police officer claimed that every time he was getting in the house he saw a bucket of water materializing in front of him.

This may appear outlandish, but it could explain the UFOs seen as having a manufactured shape and leaving geometric marks on the ground. There is some evidence to support this view, as shown above, and this would be more consistent with what is known of UFOs, if compared with proposals coming from the ETH.

Physical and Sociological ontological intersections

At a general level, it is possible to say that physical structures can create particular social forms. For instance, easy communications caused be flat terrain tend to create wider social networks of people and more complex social structure than mountainous terrain were the equivalent of insular mentality is commonly found (think of Switzerland). Conversely, people can change physical environment because it serves better it social organization. The Western way of adapting the environment is quite different from the aboriginal way in the Americas, and this difference is due to a difference in social structure and outlook.

There seems to be also an intersection in the psi realm. One can think about the Global Consciousness project lead by Dean Radin. A form of social psi (i.e., that cannot be reduced to individual psi) seems to affect random number generators. This was seen in a very spectacular way, starting 8 hours before the first attack against the World Trade Centre, on 11 September 2001. Carl Jung has also theorized about the collective unconscious, and other have speculated that it is a form of absolute knowledge that individual can access through psi-related means, but the absolute knowledge itself could only be understood as a social object. Others have speculated, but not research it, that UFOs might be a form social psi, gaining a temporary autonomy that cannot be understood in terms of individual psi effect. There is some evidence to support this, as some have noticed that UFO waves tend to occur where there are national or collective tensions, or just before (like the Iranian UFO incident of 1976 – similar to the Belgian one of 1989-1990, a few years before the Islamic Revolution). This would be also coherent with what is known.

This is one of the key contribution that parasociology can make in the study of not only UFOs, but other so-called paranormal events.

Biological and Psychological ontological intersections

At a general level, it is known that brain injury, for instance, can affect perceptions and consciousness. Conversely, it is also known that diseases and illness can be created by psychosomatic disorders. With respect to UFOs, one cannot exclude some report of strange illness and cure caused by aliens/UFOs. There has been research about psi healing, and psi-induced illnesses. Again, this would be consistent with is known.

Biological and Sociological ontological intersections

At a general level, it is known that the biological environment influences social structures. Fishing communities, for instance, are very different from hunter-gatherers’ societies. Social structures can also have an impact on biology like industrialism and environmental pollutions, but also advance capitalism causing epidemics of stress-related diseases.

There is also the Gaïa theory, which assumes that the Earth is a living organism too. By extension one can think that maybe this living organism is also producing psi effects that influence the collective unconscious. This is a popular New Age idea, but it has no supporting evidence. On the other hand, it is theoretically in line with the known interactions between the social and the biological, if it is embedded into a collective psi construct. This would be an interesting project for parasociology, but it requires firming up quite a bit the notion of collective psi. Yet, the implicit idea would be that UFOs are “psi reactions” of the biosphere to human activities. So far, the symbolic meaning attached to UFOs sightings seems pointing instead towards something internal to human affairs and not the issues of the biosphere.
Sociological and Psychological ontological intersections

At a general level, it is known that culture and socialization influence the type of personalities found in a given society. Conversely, so individual can have profound influence on social constructs (e.g., Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Picasso, etc.). The intersection is also possible in the realm of psi effect. For instance, the famous sociologist Max Weber implied that political leadership could be a form of psi (and this has not been noticed by many sociologists). Conversely, the “epidemic” of Gray alien visitations could be explained as individuals being “struck” by social psi.

There is very little research done so far on the intersections between individual and social psi beyond the groundbreaking work done by Carl Jung. But it is clearly in line with what is known. This is certainly the other key task of parasociology, with obvious application to UFO research, if successful in developing an empirical research agenda.

Interim Conclusions

When dissected as above, the UFO phenomenon is indeed complex, as not all the variables are known. Parasociology does not have all the answers, but it certainly focuses on the blind spots, the neglected areas of the UFO phenomenon. From this point of view, it is reassuring that the research agenda is indeed attempting to fill existing gaps in our knowledge, and that this gap has been identified by being as multi-disciplinary as possible.

The two priority areas are intersection between the physical realm and the social, and between the psychological realm and the social. In both cases, “science of the extreme” (i.e., the study of psi) appears more needed than normal social science (the “Newtonian” version of it).

It appears now too early to even propose a draft model, but some questions can be put forward. For instance, should I use “socialkinesis” instead of PK to describe the possible interaction between the social and the physical? Are UFO waves “Recurrent Spontaneous Social Kinesis”? Similarly, should I use “Extra-Sensorial Socialization” to discuss informational psi effect emanating out of the collective unconscious? I am not sure. But I know there is a need to develop a terminology that will help preventing reductionist attempts of considering social psi as simply an aggregate of psychological psi (a common problem already existing in normal sociology when engaging with normal psychologists and physicists and biologists).

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Monday, December 1, 2008

Interim Summary and First Draft of an Analytical Model – Part 1

I have covered some ground in terms of what is out there. It is time to do a summary what is emerging so far. However, it is first important to underline an obvious conclusion: UFO and alien sightings might be single events, but from an analytical standpoint they are multi-level realities. Hence, to propose a meaningful summary and a first draft of an analytical model, I need to firm up this preliminary conclusion. To do so, I decided to borrow from Cornelius Castoriadis, a French philosopher of Greek origin, who was very influential in the social sciences in France, and indirectly in North America when the ideas of the post-structuralist (or postmodern) thinkers were massively “imported” to the new world during the 1980s and 1990s (e.g., Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Jean Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard, etc.).

Ontological Levels

Castoriadis proposed an interesting theory of ontology (the nature of reality). For him, “being” is what can exist because we can imagine it. For an object to exist, it has to exist in our mind. To exist in our mind we have to imagine it first. Hence, for Castoriadis the human mind is constantly creating reality. This idea is in many ways similar to Immanuel Kant’s idea that our relationship with reality is always mediated by our language, culture, preconceptions, etc. Direct access to reality is not possible because we need all these mediating elements to access reality, to make distinctions between different objects so that reality is not just mass of confused stimuli; in other words, to make sense of reality we need lenses. Without language and culture we cannot name things, and if we cannot name them then we cannot understand them. An important point here, this is not to say that there is no independent or objective reality out there, it is simply that such reality cannot be grasped without our subjectivity. For both Kant and Castoriadis, a better understanding of our subjective tools to apprehend reality is therefore the key to generate better knowledge.

Castoriadis, however, adds that there are four fundamental levels of ontology that are not reducible to one another, and this constitutes an inherent characteristic of reality. These levels are: the physical, the biological, the psychological (or psyche-soma), and the social-historical. Castoriadis recognizes that this reality out there “reacts” to our gaze and our scrutiny, and that our imagination faces constraints; our creative capacities may be unlimited in theory but when it is time to understand how our environment works we have to answer to reality’s unforeseen “reactions”. The famous French anthropologist of science, Bruno Latour who borrowed a lot from Castoriadis, stated in the same spirit that “reality is what resists” our imagination. In other words, reality tends to contradict what we imagine so that we have to work harder at it.

This is a bit of a long detour, but I wanted to be sure that this distinction in four ontological levels is not perceived as being arbitrary. It is based on serious ontological and epistemological foundations. This categorization of reality in four levels will be useful to classify what I found so far, and it will be useful to establish linkages between findings. It is also useful in order to be reflexive. Reflexivity appears to me as being critical when one studies the paranormal; pseudo-scientific attitudes created out of mimicry, or out of 19th century naive scientism attitude are still transmitted in present-day high schools and universities. It is also useful to deconstruct the excesses of positivist, empiricist and reductionist attitudes found in the scientific community at large, without falling into the trap of the New Age’s extreme relativism.

The classification of the information thus far amassed will be put through two usual epistemological tests. The first one is the external validity, by asking if there are empirical evidences to support the assertion. The evidence can be directly related or indirectly related to similar situations. The second test is about internal validity. Are the findings coherent with other findings? Or is it logically consistent with what is known, or does it requires a separate special explanation? Any special explanation would then require special justification.

The Physical Reality of UFOs

The physical evidence about UFO all points towards balls of lights in their various guises, which tend to be highly charged from an electromagnetic standpoint. As the Hessdalen project has shown, balls of light can be invisible to the eye, and yet producing a radar echo. When they are visible they look like nocturnal light (NL, in the Hynek classification), and silvery discs or balls during daylight (DD, diurnal discs). If we accept the rule-of-thumb that about 95% of all UFO sightings can be explained by more mundane sources (airplanes, meteorites, satellites, optical illusions, etc.), then we have also to underline that the vast majority of the 5% remaining is made of NLs and DDs. This is true for both single UFO observations and UFO waves.

Balls of light can accelerate very quickly to reach 9,000 meters per second (32,400 km/h). They can be produced by natural sources of electro-magnetism, or by man-made ones. As they are often highly charged electro-magnetically, they tend to cause dysfunctions to electrical equipment. There are at least 3 factors involved in the creation of balls of light according to Budden, their various combinations can lead to various types of balls of light with different characteristics. They can produce high degrees of heat and leave burn marks on the ground, and cause various types of injuries to witnesses. It is also possible that square wave radio frequencies make them taking 90 degrees square turns when the conditions for such behaviour are met. They are probably also sensitive to other sources of electromagnetism, like a fighter jet locking its radar on a UFO, might just “push” the ball of light further, and give the illusion that it is engaging in evasive manoeuvres. This explanation has a basis of empirical evidence to support it, and it is coherent with Newtonian physics and what is known about UFO sightings.

The only exceptions are the Close Encounters (CE 1 to 3) sightings from Hynek’s descriptive classification. These sightings are actually the only portion of the UFO experience where the ETH has any possible traction. If we decompose the problem, however, the room left for the ETH becomes even narrower. Most of the CE3 (seeing an ufonaut) and all of the so-called CE4 (alien abduction) occur when the witness is in a state of altered consciousness (or facing the “Oz factor” to use Jenny Randle’s terminology). It is important to note also that someone in a state of altered consciousness is usually not be aware of it. Hence, CE3 are still not offering any tangible evidence for the ETH, as in altered state of consciousness reality and fiction tend to get mixed up (the Kantian issue discussed above). Such situations can be caused by known physical source of energy applied to the brain, as research in laboratory setting shows (particularly Persinger). The physical marks can also be explained by self-action of the experiencer when he/she is a state of altered consciousness, and he or she will have no conscious memory of having done it. They actually tend to attribute, wrongly, these marks to the action of what was seen during the event. Psychiatry has extended empirical evidence about this type of unconscious behaviour.

Most CE 2 (leaving physical traces) can also be explained by what we know about balls of light. The only exceptions are the relatively rare instances where geometric marks (square, rectangles) are found leaving an imprint in the ground. CE 1 that involve seeing a manufactured object can at times be construed as misperceptions caused by altered state of consciousness, but not always, especially when there are several witnesses reporting the same description. As one can see, the room for the ETH is rather much narrower than most people think. From the point of view of physical evidence, there is nothing to support the ETH in these instances, as no materiel, equipment or biological tissues “out of this Earth” was ever found. It still fails the external validity test. As it will be shown in the next post, other explanations with some empirical evidence supporting them and more in line with was is already known can be offered to explain these last elements. The ETH also fails the internal validity test. Hence, given these two test failures and its relatively limited applicability, there are no rational at this point to maintain a special explanation such as the ETH.

The Biological Reality of UFOs

There is a biological component to the UFO experience if we consider “mind postures” more likely to lead to altered state of consciousness as a biological issue. There is now substantial evidence to show that altered state of consciousness plays an important part in the UFO experience, but such states are likely to occur to people predisposed to have a lower threshold between the conscious mind and the unconscious. Such threshold is in part biological, although it can be trained (like a muscle) through various techniques like meditation, yoga, etc. According to Budden’s research, some people have a greater sensibility to electromagnetism due to prolonged exposure to electromagnetic fields. There are also people who neurologically developed dissociative personalities, oftentimes the result of a defence mechanism developed during a traumatic childhood. Lastly, there are people who seem to have an innate lower threshold, and they are oftentimes found in artistic and creative professions. The empirical evidence here is quite strong, and it is in line with what is known about UFO experiences, and parapsychology.

The Social-Historical Reality of UFOs

There is a social and historical component to the UFO experience in as much as its content can be traced back to sociological realities. UFOs are specific to our time, and appear to be closely related to our capacity of imagining flying machines. Some may argue that the Bible and ancient Hindu texts discusses flying machines, and this is quite true. The possibility of imagining flying machine is in itself not time bound, but “seeing” strange objects in the sky on an ongoing basis is unique to our time. The content of UFO sightings seems also to be related to social dynamics. From the Airship story of 1896, to the Kenneth Arnold’s sightings of flying objects wobbling like flying saucers, to the rash of contactees emerging after George Adamski published Flying Saucers Have Landed in 1953, one can only see that the content of UFO experience is at least partially socially constructed.

Only one unusual sighting or experience (actually alleged sighting or experience) is enough to create a series of similar sightings that can last for decades. A case in point is the Betty and Barney Hill experience with the so-called Grey ETs. It was a first, and it became publicly known in 1966 with the publication of Interrupted Journey. Then, the Becky Andreasson case occurred in 1967. But the real “epidemic” of Grey ETs abductions started in the mid 1970s, coinciding with the broadcast of a TV film entitled The UFO Incident, aired the first time on NBC in October 1975, and relating the story of Hill couples’ experience. As well, Bertrand Meheust has provided extensive analyses to show that science fiction impacts the content of UFO experiences. The evidence for a social-historical dimension to the UFO experience is very strong and it is in line what was is known about other paranormal phenomena like the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Catholic countries or areas, the Chupacabra in Spanish speaking countries, etc.

The Psychological Reality of UFOs

Here it is at times difficult to separate the physiological aspect of altered states of consciousness, and the actual experience. However, to provide an analytical distinction, the psychological aspect of the UFO experience is understood as the intrapsychic component, and this relates to our understanding of both consciousness and the unconscious. This is, in turn, links directly to the question of imagination, as it appears to be the bridge between the two. The conscious mind creates reality through imagining, correcting the creation as it rubs itself against reality. The unconscious processes, stores and sends back the results of the imaginary process to the conscious mind in a subliminal and/or symbolic way. Hence, the distinction between imaginary realm and reality is much more subtle that most people think. An obvious example of this is when people get into an accident and feel no pain until they realized they are injured. It is on this bridge that the question of psi needs to be understood. Psi can be construed as the reverse process described above: reality is created in the unconscious mind, and the conscious mind uses imagination to make sense of it, which in turn may affect reality. Certainly, the remote viewing process appears to work that way and there is some empirical evidence to support this.

It is quite clear that there is an important psi element in the UFO experience. For instance, altered perceptions seem to be telepathically shared when there is more than one witness. There are too many similarities in the experience for a regular psychological explanation to hold. Although there is some research on the “folie à deux”, such research shows that “folie à deux” only occur when one witness is having a particularly strong psychological hold on the other, and thus influence him/her to believe in a particular perception. It is not to say that it cannot happen in UFO cases, but when there are several witnesses, physically apart and not knowing each other, the “folie à deux” cannot be invoked.

Psi research shows that believing in paranormal increases the probability of psi effects, and there is no reason to think that it is any different with the UFO experience. This actually relates directly to the question of imagination. These beliefs play an important part in establishing a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind, although it is not a mandatory one. Some research empirically supports this statement, particularly the Anamnesis Project.

Yet, contrary to remote viewing and many other forms of psychic experiment, UFO experiences are spontaneous and not predictable. It appears as if an external psi source is involved in creating the psi experience (in one’s own unconscious). It is also contrary to RSPKs experiences, where clearly a particular type of dysfunctional personality is usually involved. Furthermore, in the case of UFO waves there seem to be multiple or no focus persons involved in the event. Certainly, it is this aspect of the UFO experience that also keeps alive the 2nd degree ETH, and the paranormal explanations (PNH) proposed by Jacques Vallée and John Keel. Unfortunately, there is no possible evidence for such approaches. If one assumes that non-human entities are involved, then it also implies that these entities can “play” with the experience at will. Thus, it is beyond the reach of any analysis. This is the analytical position taken by parapsychology, and it paid off, as our knowledge of paranormal has advanced under parapsychology while it remained stagnant with the old fashion psychical research. Following this approach for UFO, is therefore consistent with what is known.

There are a fair amount of empirical evidence to link UFOs and psi effect, and many of the UFO experience characteristics are coherent with was is known about psi effect. However, the issue of an external source of psi appears to not fit what is known in parapsychology. On the other hand, parapsychology tend to shy away from the study of paranormal phenomena that seem to have an external source to a specific individual(s) unconscious mental processes.

Part II

In the second part, in an attempt to answer provisionally some of the questions left pending in Part I, the interaction between ontological levels will be explored.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Reading Notes Schnabel’s Remote Viewers

As a related topic to psi research, I read Jim Schnabel’s Remote Viewers: The secret history of America’s psychic spies (New York: Dell, 1997). Although this book is not about UFOs, it opens a window into how some portions of parapsychology has evolved over time. Hence, my comments are not some much about the spy story of the various projects that American intelligence agencies supported over the years, but rather about the background of all this.

The main organization behind the research about remote viewing was the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), a scientific think-tank connected to Stanford University, near San Francisco, California. The SRI is essentially an organization doing leading edge research on a contract basis for the U.S. government and the private sector. The SRI was closely involved with the electronic and telecommunication revolution that lead to the creation of the Internet. For instance, Jacques Vallée in his day job was working with the SRI to develop the telecommunication technologies that lead to the “electronic superhighway”. (Jacques Vallée did some work with SRI in the field of remote viewing as well). The SRI is very much part, hence, of the Silicon Valley community. One more point, the famous Bell Labs, also located in the Silicon Valley is the home of another important parapsychologist, Dean Radin.

Psi and people

One of the early findings of the SRI, as part of the remote viewing project, is that they are no particular traits or characteristics attached to people who have abilities in remote viewing. The only predictor, and it was a weak one, was that people who had psychic experience before, or simply believe in the paranormal tended to have more abilities. The SRI conducted later on psychological tests on people who had remote viewing abilities, and they found these people tend to be more intuitive, emotionally sensitive and prone to altered states of consciousness than the average population. Having an easy access to one’s own unconscious mind appears to be the key. This is in line with other research in parapsychology.

The SRI also conducted some research on psychokinesis (PK), with much less success. The only event that was really worth mentioning was the strange apparitions that occurred after they did work with the famous medium Uri Geller. These were unexplained, and were not pursued further by the SRI, although it was figured out that some of those apparitions were symbolic “notifications” about mundane events in the future. The SRI people, and others, figured out quickly that Geller was bending spoons with his hands, not with his mind (although he appeared to have genuine remote viewing abilities about future events).

The apparition events give the impression that Geller, inadvertently, activated people’s psi abilities and these in turn translated into involuntary psi effects. Like with many psychics (and shamans for that matter), there is always a mix of genuine psi abilities and trickery. Such a trickery, is not only useful to increase belief in the paranormal for people around, but to self-deceive the psychic himself/herself in believing in the paranormal (i.e., as we all do to, psychics and shamans are playing “little games” with their own unconscious mind). It appears, once again, that believing in the paranormal is an important component to enable psi effects to occur.

Psi and electromagnetism

It is interesting to note that the SRI conducted remote-viewing experiments where the viewers were inside a special chamber that prevents any electromagnetic emissions to go through. This had no effect on the experiment. Clearly, the idea that psi is some sort of low frequency signal does not hold. The US military did also some research on extremely low frequencies to communicate with their submarines, and found that it could only be a one-way signal from the ground base to the submerged sub, and that it required enormous amount of energy, while telepathic experiment could be done by ordinary remote viewers going both ways. The SRI also did some experiments on the impact of the Earth’s natural magnetic field variations and on the impact of thunderstorms during remote viewing sessions. These experiments were down in the wake of Persinger’s (Laurentian University) finding about the brain and electromagnetism. It was found that they had an impact on the quality of the remote viewing abilities, but such impact was too weak to make any significant differences. These researches, and others, show that Budden in Electric UFOs overestimated the role of electromagnetism on consciousness in the UFO experience. Electromagnetism appears to be yet another enabler, but not the source of psi effects.

Psi and time

One of the problems remote-viewers had was to identify if what they were seeing was actually in the present. Many successful sessions involved seeing scenes that were either in the past or in the future. This is further confirmation that psi is not only unaffected by space, but also by time. Yet, an interesting finding was that it was difficult for remote viewers to see specific numbers or words, such as lottery numbers. One of the explanations given was that they were seeing a probable future, and that the more specific (or probabilistic) an information is, the more difficult it is to find. As well, the further away they were looking into the future the more difficult it was. From that point of view, time was acting a bit like an energy field: the further away one is from the present, the more difficult it is to detect information; and the more tenuous (or highly randomized, e.g., lottery numbers) the information is the more difficult it is to detect. This is a bit odd that psi works like an energy field when it comes to dealing with time while it seems unaffected by spatial distance (and thus appears to be non-local correlations). However, in the case of PK, psi appears to behave like an energy field too. I am just wondering if these inconsistencies are not due to profound unconscious beliefs that emerge from our interaction with reality; matter and time seem so immutable to us that we cannot imagine them otherwise, and thus preventing psi effects to occur in a fully non-local correlation way. Clearly, there is a need to develop a phenomenology of psi.

Psi and consciousness

The SRI researchers found something that the philosopher Immanuel Kant already found 200 years ago. We need the clutter of our mind (words, culture, socialization personal experience, etc) to relate to the world around us, to name things, to make sense of reality. Yet, this clutter is also what prevents us to see the world without bias. It is what is called phenomenology by philosophers. The SRI people, in good positivist, empiricist, and materialistic researchers they were, did not make the connection with Kant, but figured out that the verbal, analytical and mathematical abilities were related to a specific part of the brain, while the unconscious and intuitive faculties were in a different part of the brain. Having to pass from one to the other had the effect of “disconnecting” the psi faculty while the brain was looking for analytical information to make sense of the raw sensations coming from the psi faculties.

Another interesting idea that emerged during that period was that psi in its ESP form seems to be quite similar to subliminal messages. Subliminal messages are flash messages (or very low volume in the case of audition), but long enough to be seen by the unconscious mind. These will be recorded by the brain, but only the key features are retained, not the details. Out of these finding about psi, the SRI developed a technique to assess and re-asses the message (while trying to avoid the analytical part of the brain to insert imaginary elements in the raw psi sensation in trying to make sense of it). This technique, however, did not seem to make any difference in the quality of the remote viewing. It appears that self-correcting intuitive processes remain the only way to depart “noise from signal” in remote viewing, and that it is relatively low success rate constitutes an absolute limitation. But the SRI people were not the first ones to have figure out this issue. René Warcollier, a French psychic researcher of the first half of the 20th century, had already written a book on the topic in 1946. Of course, our very American people at the SRI, did not read the parapsychology work done in other countries (except the Soviet Union, as it was part of a Cold War endeavour).

Other comments

The book is overall a good read, and provides a good overview of the ups and downs of the American remote viewing project. Although there are some rumours about the National Security Agency reviving the remote viewing activities, the project was formally disbanded. Many of the people who were involved went freelance, either as remote viewer for a fee, or as trainers in remote viewing (also for a fee). Some of them, like Russel Targ, gave a mystical/religious twist to remote viewing. Others work mostly with New Age oriented people or groups. From the point of view of sociology of science, it is interesting to note that the people who were involved in the field went from one extreme to the other, from the positivist, empiricist, and materialistic standpoint to a New Age outlook, where one should know, truthfulness, reality, and the like are not important issues. This is a reinforcing lesson for parasociology to ensure that it avoids both of these traps.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Friday, November 21, 2008

Reading Notes on Budden’s Electric UFOs

As discussed in a previous post, I planned to read Albert Budden’s Electric UFOs: Fireballs, electromagnetics and abnormal states (London: Blandford, 1998), and I just finished it. It is an interesting read, but the author does not deliver what he promises. He promises a unified theory that explains not only UFO sightings, but also alien sightings, ESPs, poltergeists and pretty much any other paranormal phenomena. In a nut shell, for Budden UFOs are various types highly magnetized balls of lights. Sightings of aliens, ghosts, and the like are magnetically induced hallucinations. ESPs are weak electrical signals that only the brain can capture, and poltergeists are brain-induced electro-magnetic effects. Given the grandiose tone of Budden’s book, a few remarks are needed before looking into what he can bring to the study of UFOs.

No unified theory and a lot of reductionism

Some of the fundamental assumptions of this book are, in my opinion, quite problematic. The author tries to situate his work within the greater context of UFO studies. He rejects the ETH, as there is no physical evidence to support it. Because the ETH is essentially a materialistic hypothesis, and its failure to deliver any physical evidence about extra-terrestrial presence disqualifies it. So far so good. He also rejects the so-called psychosocial hypothesis (PSH) that he defines as an:

“... approach which maintains that there are no physical stimuli behind unidentified flying objects (UFOs), alien-abduction experiences, hauntings, poltergeists, etc., but that such phenomena are created and maintained by belief systems, urban myth, rumour, group cohesion and other social constructs.” (p. 15)

He further states that: “I read sociology at university and am aware that, while these unusual consciousness effects generate sociological implications, because they involve human groups, they are not sociological in themselves, but bioelectromagnetic in nature” (p.16).

Lastly, he also mentions at a later point that he rejects approaches that are reductionist.

If I agree with him about his criticism of the PSH, because it does not take into consideration physical evidences, I must say that he is completely wrong in rejecting the existence of social constructs. As von Lucadou has shown through empirical research on RSPKs, the social environment is critical to understand what is happening. Another criticism that can be leveraged against Budden is his incapacity to explain how several individuals exposed to same electromagnetically event would have the same hallucination. In this regard, it is interesting to note that all the examples he gives in the annexes of his book are ones of single individual experiences.

As each individual has its own unique life story, images and fantasies, a high intensity electromagnetic field (EMF) would cause as many different forms of hallucinations. Without calling to his rescue some elements of psychosocial dynamics, it is impossible for Budden to stop his analysis at the physical level. Following Jacques Vallée’s work of UFO sightings, we know that the content of sightings/hallucination is culturally and era specific (e.g., the gray abduction scenario was particular to North America for quite a while; dwarfs and elves were seen in the past, aliens are seen nowadays, etc). His rejection of reductionism is very ironic, as his own approach is essentially reductionist!

No mention of parapsychology, psi or Einstein’s physics

Another problem is his statement that his approach is interdisciplinary (pp. 29-30), and that the epistemological gaps between disciplines must be bridged if one wants to understand the UFO phenomenon. In fact, the only sciences he really cares about are the physical and medical ones. Yet, his book is also about hallucinations and altered states of consciousness, which are neither in the domain of physics and biological/medical sciences. His research object requires that he bridges the real epistemological gap in science: the one dividing the natural and human sciences without reducing one to the other. Thus, in spite of putting a lot of emphasis on consciousness, he completely ignores psychology, and noetic sciences.

His failure to be truly interdisciplinary is even greater, as he claims to be able to explain all paranormal phenomena without mentioning a single word about research in parapsychology. Budden writes about psychic research and of “other ghost hunters” in a very critical way. But he does not seem to know that psychic research and parapsychology are quite different and that they are built on different assumptions. Scientific parapsychology actually tries to bridge the gap between physical and human sciences, and involves the work of people who understand how human consciousness works (psychological training of parapsychologists).

As well, his ignorance of the research in parapsychology brings him to a second failure when it is time to deal with the content of hallucinations. Psychosocial dynamics certainly provides the basic material for people to have similar hallucinations, but it cannot explain how people can have the same hallucination. A third component needs to be introduced, and this is the notion of psi, understood as correlating information non-locally. If he is not aware of their work, then his research skill should be questioned. If he purposefully ignored parapsychology, then his work should be considered as extremely biased.

My last criticism is about the very Newtonian approach he takes when discussing electromagnetism. Physicists and parapsychologists have shown that to understand psi effects, one really needs Einstein physics, and not so much Newton’s. Budden never envisions the possibility that some of his analyses would benefit from being reframed into a relativistic and quantum physics framework. As Budden claims that ESP are simply electrical signals received by people who are sensitive to EMF, he does not explain how the signal is coded and then decoded. The use of EMF to send signal by radio, TV, and other communication devices is only the physical support for the signal, but it is not its content. As well, as parapsychologists have found, psi does not seem to respect time barriers (observed by people acquiring knowledge of the future and of the past), and it does not respect distance (like in the case of remote viewing). An electrical signal, like any field in Newtonian physics, exists in a linear timeline and decreases by the square of the distance (e.g., a field with 16 units energy at distance of 2, will only have only 4 units of energy at a distance of 4). In Budden’s theory, premonition is impossible and long distance telepathy would be very unlikely. Yet, empirical research shows otherwise. The concept of non-locality, once more, explains much better paranormal phenomena than speculating about a weak electrical signal that would be captured by the human brain. Again, if he had read scientific parapsychology, he would know better.

In the end, one has to understand Budden’s approach as being materialistic and reductionist, in way similar to the work done by people involved in the ETH. However, I think Budden has still touched upon a number interesting point.

Useful and Interesting Points

Budden considers that UFOs and other paranormal phenomena are caused by either natural or man-made electromagnetic effects. With respect to UFOs, it is certainly coherent with what is known about the physical reality of UFOs. As well, with the work of researchers like Michael Persinger it is known that electromagnetic fields (EMF) can induce hallucinations. What Budden adds is that some people are more sensitive to EMF than others, and that they are more susceptible to have paranormal experiences. He also contributes to the discussion by identifying that some people become more sensitive to EMF by being exposed to EMF for prolonged periods (e.g., living nearby power lines, telecom towers, radio amateurs stations, etc).

Budden goes a bit further and states that people who have dissociative personalities plus sensitivity to EMF are the most likely to have paranormal experiences. Here I would add an important nuance to avoid espousing not only a reductionist approach, but also stereotyping people. Research in parapsychology tends to show it is rather people who have a lower threshold to connect with their unconscious mind that are more susceptible to experience psi effect. This includes people with dissociative personalities (which is considered as being a pathology), but also artistic, creative, and intuitive people who have no pathology at all. As well, it includes people who follow spiritual paths that can be described as “mystical” (e.g., Sufism, Shamanism, cloistered contemplative Catholic nuns, etc.).

This is an interesting idea, and this offers criteria to look into individuals who have UFO/alien experiences, but it is not sufficient to study UFO waves. Given the extended nature of some UFO waves and the wide array of people involved, it is unlikely that such criteria would provide useful explanations about waves. However, it may be useful to explain why some people would have more intense experiences than others during a wave.

The greatest contribution from Budden remains where his assumptions lies: the physical dimension of UFOs. Budden provides a detailed chapter on how balls of light and earth lights are created, whether naturally and through what he calls electromagnetic pollution. He uses the work of several authors, including the work done by the Hessdalen Project in Norway. He provides a technical analysis as to how these balls of plasma are created and concludes that three conditions are necessary to create fireballs: “1. Generate a lot of carbon or vaporized metal particles in a small region of space; 2. Create large electric fields in the same vicinity; 3. Rapidly elevate the temperature of the particles.”(p. 184).

These balls of light have different properties depending on the quantity of matter or energy involved during their creation (some will be short lived, a few seconds, others can last for hours; some will be very hot while others will be less hot; some will be highly charged electromagnetically while others will be less, etc.). The source of energy producing the EMF can be natural (e.g., geological fault) or man-made when different radio frequencies intersect at the same point. Lastly, these balls of light can be created in laboratory, and he quotes abundantly the Canadian John Hutchison. This offers some criteria to evaluate if such conditions exist in a sustained way so that it can produce a UFO wave.

Another potential contribution, but it remains implicit in his book, is a new explanation for the 90 degree turns observed in several UFO sightings, which on the surface appears to violate the laws of physics. But if UFOs are highly magnetically charged balls of plasma, and that they are created in part by radio waves at different frequencies but intersecting at the same point, then may be radio emissions can serve as temporary “rail road” for the UFOs. Some of the most common radio emissions are called square waves, very useful to send the binary signal at the heart of digital encoding. Hence, maybe those 90 degree turns are to be understood as some sort of short-lived and grand scale spectrometer “display.”

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet