Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reading Notes – Heath’s The PK Zone

For those interested in psychokinesis from a parapsychology perspective, I found “the” book on the topic. It is:

Heath, Pamela Rae. (2003). The PK Zone: A cross-cultural review of psychokinesis. Lincoln: iUniverse.

This book is essentially an extensive review of our knowledge about PK, and it can be easily considered as a reference manual. The bibliography is almost 20 pages long. It is not a book to be read like a novel, however, as it is divided in analytical sections, and sub-sections. The first part of the book is a quick review of past approaches to PK-like phenomena (such as in 19th century psychical research), and religious-based understanding of PK (like the levitation of the saints). The second part presents a review of scientific research and theories (and the more scientific portion of psychical research is included in this section). The last part and the most extensive one is about the experiential portion of PK, i.e. how PK relates to altered states of consciousness, dissociation, trust, inhibitors, etc. In the conclusion, the author presents briefly a psychological model linking 14 experiential elements of the PK experience (pp. 355-357). Graphically, it looks like a “spaghetti” org. chart, and it is not meant to be user-friendly. This book is obviously the outcome of a colossal amount of work, but it is not for those who are seeking “the” answer to PK. It is rather an honest look at the multiple incomplete and imperfect answers that are out there.

It is interesting to note that the author, by focussing on the experiential part of PK, is taking a qualitative (or phenomenological) perspective on the phenomenon. The author offers not only the main findings on various aspects of PK by citing the relevant literature, but she proposes many quotes from people involved in PK experience, or who had spontaneous experiences, to support her claims. This is refreshing to see a parapsychologist able to beyond dry statistical analysis attempting to determine whether it is within or outside chance deviations. From that point of view, this book offers a readily usable analytical guide for the qualitative material (i.e., witness accounts) of the UFO experience (assuming it is indeed a PK-related phenomenon).

PK and parasociology

From a parasociology perspective, however, it is more challenging to use this book as a reference, as the proposed experiential approach is essentially one based on the individual, its key unit of analysis (i.e., a psychology-based approach). A fair bit of careful “translation” between ontological levels (i.e., between the individual level and the social level) will be required to make her findings useful to parasociology.

For instance, “focused awareness” or attention (pp. 283-290) is found to be an important enabler to intentional PK. As well, on p. 287 she notes that focused awareness can occur at the group level (to be understood here as a small group) where people are focussing on the same thing. This can increase the power of PK. Although the author does not expand on it in that chapter, there is an implicit idea that the intensity of a psi effect has a direct correlation with the number of human psyche involved. In other words, psi energy appears cumulative. UFO sightings and UFO waves can rarely be understood as intentional PK (with a few exceptions such as Viéroudy’s experiments presented in an earlier post). Hence, this part of the findings may not be relevant. However, it is also possible to make the argument that once a UFO is seen the focussed attention of the witnesses can possibly have an impact on the changing shape and behaviour of the UFO (a common observation in UFO sightings). But we are still staying at the individual level in this case. On the other hand, the idea that an increased number of people involved in a PK phenomenon (whether they are focussed or not) seems to lead to greater PK effects is an interesting argument in favour of social psi; if thousands (or more) people unconsciously produce PK effects, then the effect should be much more ostentatious, taking shapes like UFO waves, or repeated Marian apparitions. This is certainly one of the key assumptions behind the Global Consciousness Project. Yet again, this issue of focused attention could explain why during a same UFO wave there can be conflicting observations by the different witnesses (which situation often leads ETH ufologists to dismiss the observations that do not fit their preconceived notions, and to declare as “more real” or “better” the ones that fit “the pattern” – from that point of view, the criticism towards ETH ufology as being nothing more than “saucerology” is deserved).

From a methodological standpoint, because accounts of UFOs during a UFO wave are usually coming from individual people, it is still important to take into consideration the individual level portion of the phenomenon. To find social dynamics that would be particular to social psi, however, it is fundamental to maintain a clear analytical distinction between the two ontological levels. Hence, borrowing from Heath’s book will be a delicate balancing act.

As one can see, there is lots of food for thought in this book. I think it would be useful to go in depth through each of the elements of this book, in an attempt to “extract” the findings that could have a sociological level application (i.e., to inform parasociology). This will constitute the bulk of my next posts.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

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