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

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