Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Model to Study Poltergeists and UFO waves

Walter von Lucadou, a physicist and psychologist based in Germany, is one of the most prominent parapsychologist in Europe. He is also the director of the government-funded Parapsychological Counselling Office at Freiburg (Germany). He studied extensively poltergeist phenomena or Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho-Kinetic (RSPK) to use the parapsychological term. Out of his research on RSPK, he developed an original model to study psi effects, that he calls the “Model of Pragmatic Information” (MPI). This model may be useful to study UFO waves as well.

Von Lucadou’s MPI

Von Lucadou defines psi as “non-local correlations in psycho-physical systems.” He adds that “such non-local correlations, however, limit the psi-effects due to the conditions of the psycho-physical system, which mainly described by the ‘meaning’ of the situation i.e. pragmatic information.”

Let’s look at the various elements of this definition. The idea of a “system” is important here. What this means is that a psi effect is construed as a “black box” (von Lucadou sometimes uses the expression “organizationally closed system”). Such system cannot be understood from the inside, but can be understood as an input/output process. The limits of the black box are set according the meaning of the situation. Meaning, here, is understood as the meaning for the psi-subjects—how he or she understands his/her own situation. This is the part of the system that he calls the endo-system (the inside part). This is an important element of his approach because it can explain the widely noticed fact that psi-effects appear more common among people who truly believe in the paranormal. Hence, for Lucadou, the size or intensity of a psi effect is not linked to some sort of force, but rather in the capacity to believe. From that point of view, it is a model partly based on psychology.

He also uses the word “non-locality,” which is an import from quantum physics to describe events that are related but without direct cause-and-effect process. Here is a description of what it means:

NONLOCAL CORRELATION be two particles is demonstrated in the Franson experiment which sends two photons to separate but identical interferometer. Each photon may take a short route or a longer 'detour' at the first beam splitter. They may leave through the upper or lower exit ports. A detector looks at the photons leaving the upper exit ports. Before entering its interferometer, neither photon knows which way it will go. After leaving, each knows instantly and non-locally what its twin has done and so behaves accordingly.”

This issue is also important because if there are non-local correlations in the case of psi, then the laws of physics are not violated. This is something not easy to understand for non-physicists like me. But it can be described as follow. In quantum physics, it has been accepted for quite a while that energy and matter are simply two forms of the same thing and it is well expressed by Einstein’s famous formula E=mc2, where there is an equality between energy and mass. Physicists are now adding a third element: information. For instance, energy and matter are organized into movement in a direction, or as a specific molecular structure, respectively, and this is information. Like in the Franson experiment described above, the photons “know” how to recollect after going through the interferometer. Somehow, the information was carried through without a direct cause-and-effect.

Psi is understood here as correlating information non-locally (without direct cause-and-effect), between what’s going on in the head of a psi subject (at the unconscious level) and something else. The something else could be another person thought processes (i.e., telepathy) or the energetic information of an object (i.e. psycho-kinetic effects). Von Lucadou, also borrows from quantum physics the idea that the exact location of a particle cannot be known (the Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty), and Lucadou extends it to the psi correlation of information. This explains why he approaches psi as a “black box,” as explained above. So, psi can be understood as a measurable (or pragmatic) re-alignment of information without having a direct cause-and-effect like verbal communication between individuals or the application of physical force to move an object. This approach also allows a unified perspective on psi, as Extra Sensorial Perceptions (ESP) and Psycho-Kinetic (PK) effects are essentially different applications of the same fundamental process.

The role of time and the social environment in the intensity of a psi effect

Von Lucadou’s MPI, emphasizes the importance of the psi subject’s own perception of reality. One of the particular dynamics noticed about poltergeists or RSPK, is that there is a crescendo. The external part of the system, or what he calls the exo-system, plays a critical role by interacting with the endo-system. The elements of the exo-system are the visible ones, and include the people immediately around the psi subject (the Environment). By their reaction, they “feed” the psi-phenomena as they reinforce the psi subject’s belief in ghostly activity. The belief is further reinforced by the arrival of what he calls the Naive Observers (psychics, ghostbusters, exorcist priests, and other ghost believers). The next layer of the exo-system is made of Critical Observers who do not believe in the paranormal (the neighbours, the police, the therapists, etc.), who create doubts in the mind of the psi subject and his/her environment. This leads to a reduction of RSPK activity. The last layer of the exo-system is society in general, which judges harshly any belief in the paranormal (i.e. when the unscrupulous journalists arrive, and other unwanted curious), then the phenomenon tend to disappear.

From von Lucadou, Walter and F. Zahradnik. (2004). “Predictions of the Model of Pragmatic Information about RSPK”. Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association Convention 2004, p. 102.

This model explains the elusiveness of psi phenomena, a well documented aspect of psi, as the naive belief is a critical part of it. This explains also why when there is a sceptic around the phenomenon does not manifest itself. Lastly, this can explain why a phenomenon oftentimes will occur to sympathetic researchers only when the recording equipment is being put away; the psi subject is no more under the psychological pressure of “proving” something (which is the equivalent of the performance pressure felt by mediums in the days of psychic research). Lucadou proposes, therefore, that a “system can only behave as it pleases as long as one does not observe it with great care.” (Lucadou 2004, 106). In other words, the less focussed on explaining is a system (which includes people, as well as recording equipment) the more likely a psi phenomenon can occur. This is because by explaining the system there is a clear transfer of mental resources from the unconscious to the conscious and a permanent shift from the naive to the sophisticated outlook at paranormal phenomena.

To express these points above, Lucadou proposes a formula with the following elements:

I: pragmatic information (i.e. the psi effect)
E: the novelty of an observation
B: the confirmation of an observation
A: autonomy of the RSPK system
R: the reliability of the observation

The formula is as such: R * A = B * E = B’ * E’ < I

“R * A” means that reliability of an observation (i.e., I keep seeing things) is function of how much the RSPK can be autonomous (i.e., how much people remain naive and essentially passive about the phenomenon). So, the more naive people are about the phenomena the longer it will last.

“B * E” means that the confirmation (i.e, indeed, I saw something) is function of the novelty (i.e., unexpected, weird, out of the usual). The weirder a phenomenon is the more its existence will be accepted by the observers.

B’ * E’ is the same as above, except that it covers the reinforcing influence of others (Naive Observers) or the counter-influence from the Critical Observers and Society.

A = B means that the more a phenomenon is confirmed (in the mind of psi subject and his/her environment) the more the system will be autonomous (reinforce naive belief), and vice versa.

E = B’ means that the feeling novelty (degree of weirdness) is linked directly to other people’s confirmation of the phenomenon.

Hence there is a series of self-reinforcing dynamics, but as soon as the dynamics is injected with disbelief, then the dynamics becomes self-destructive of the phenomenon.

Based on the above, von Lucadou proposes a predictive model for RSPK, with four distinct phases. The first one is the “Surprise”. Essentially the phenomenon erupts; the unconscious mind of the focus person takes the means to be heard. As the immediate environment gets worried, and as the phenomena is “fed” by the naive observers (i.e. who believe in ghosts) the phenomenon increases in intensity. The surprise phase is therefore a self-reinforcing cycle.

The second phase is called “Displacement.” This occurs when external critical actors get involved in the fray and induce doubts in the mind of the naive observers and the envirronment. The critical observers can be journalists, parapsychologists, or even the police. At this point, the phenomenon starts to lose intensity. As well, the arrival of critical observers is oftentimes the occasion for the focus person to get noticed, and get his/her psychological needs acknowledged.

Then there is the “Decline” phase, where the critical observers want to document and verify the events. At this time, the focus person is no more in a mode of expressivity, but rather unconsciously in a performance pressure mode (confirmation becomes harder, thus reliability and autonomy of the system decrease, which lead also to a decline in novelty or weirdness). This phase leads to a further reduction of the effect.

Lastly, there is the “Suppression” phase, where the pressures from society “to be rational” start to be felt, and lead to suppression and denial about the events. Concretely, this happens when people in the neighbourhood or in the newspapers present the events as being ridicule. Then, society essentially stops to discuss what happened altogether. By that time, the RSPK has ended.

Difficulties with the MPI

The MPI, however, is not without problems. One of the critics is that if we start with the “black box” assumption, then we basically give up upon understanding the fundamental dynamics of psi. Others argue that symbolism found in psi events, and information gathered by psychoanalysis, are at very least windows allowing one to look inside the black box. Along the same train of thought, giving up the inside of the black box also denies the possibility of understanding why RSPK (or psi effect in general) occur in relatively rare instances while it does not in many other similar circumstances. A true predictive model should be able identify, at a minimum, the key conditions necessary for a RSPK to occur in the first place. The MPI does not provide that.

Application to UFO waves

The MPI can be useful to describe the timeline of a UFO wave, and if it is successful in doing so, it can provide some serious arguments for my basic assumption that UFO waves are psi phenomena. But it will not help to identify when or where a UFO wave will start.

If I use the Buck County wave (based on the elements provided in my last post), the following analysis can be put forward:

The people of the grassroots movement that were defeated in stopping the nuclear industry may collectively constitute the Focus Persons. They have been ignored for quite a while. They probably still harbour hard feelings, but as nuclear energy is no more on the top of the agenda, these feelings are suppressed.

The Surprise phase starts with a number of strange sightings in the sky by people living in the Buck County (the Environment). The message is not heard, nor understood, and the sightings continue to increase. Then MUFON gets involved (Naive Observers) and takes note of the sightings; people talk informally about the sightings, and the word starts to spread; the sightings increases.

The Displacement phase starts when the information about the sightings reaches the local news media (Critical Observers). This was in July. Then there is a sharp decline in sightings. As well, there was an announcement that radio-active waste will not be put in a Buck County landfill for now, around the same time in July (the Focus Persons were heard).

Then the Decline phase starts around August when the ufologists are now engaged into looking in what is going on in the Buck County. The elusiveness of the phenomena shows itself again by having sightings outside the Buck County (the unconscious pressure to perform is there, now that the UFOs in the Buck County are public news). The phenomenon continues at a reduce rate but remains resilient because the nuclear industry gets involve again with the August announcement. Hence, by combining new worries and the elusiveness dynamics, novelty is temporarily increased by sightings outside the Buck County, to include a sighting during an Obama rally and maybe a CE3 in Northern Pennsylvania. This time the news really reaches out the wider American society, and the harsh comments can be read on the News website where the pictures and film of the 4 October sightings are posted. But the Focus Persons now got really heard by the New York Times (NYT) report on the presidential candidates’ position on nuclear energy (one can expect that the focus persons are more on the Liberal side of politics and therefore many of them are likely to read the (NYT), as well New York City is not that far from the Buck County). Their unconscious fear is now conscious: both candidates will not oppose strongly the nuclear industry; their hope that Obama will do things differently is gone in spite of “trying to get his attention” during a rally in Philadelphia. (I suspect most of the Focus Persons tend to be overwhelmingly Democrats given their views being more on the left-wing side).

We are now in the Suppression phase. There are no new sightings in the region. The Buck County wave is forgotten as the elections are quickly approaching, and ufologists are focussing on their next target.

The above analysis is a bit speculative as it is difficult to fully assess the mood of the people who were engaged in the anti-nuclear grassroots movement (i.e., the focus persons). I had to build in some plausible assumptions.

The key, however, to fully show the explanatory power of the MPI would be to prove that a number of specific individuals, who were part of the Focus Persons (i.e., former members of the anti-nuclear grassroots movement), were also watching the sky and believing strongly that UFOs are extra-terrestrials in their spacecraft getting involved in human affairs. For instance, if it can be shown that the membership of the Focus Persons has an overlap between the grassroots movement and some sort New Age network with a strong UFO flavour, then parasociology is in business.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

No comments: