Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reading Notes - Various authors on various topics

Today’s post is a bit eclectic, but there are several ideas useful to many aspects of parasociology. Three articles from scholarly journals are reviewed, without having a common theme. They are:

Etzold, Eckhard. (2005). “Solar-periodic full moon effect in the Fourmilab retropsychokinesis project experiment data: An exploratory study”. Journal of Paraspychology 69(2): 233-261.

Orme-Johnson, David W et al. (1988). “International Peace Project in the Middle East: The effects of the Maharishi technology of the unified field”. Journal of Conflict Resolution 32(4): 776-812.

Rojcewicz, Peter M. (1987). “The ‘Men in Black’ experience and tradition: Analogues with the traditional devil hypothesis”. Journal of American Folklore 100(396): 148-160.

Etzold’s article

The gist of this article is to show that solar activity, instead of lunar cycles, has more impact on casino winnings, which is understood has a form of psi effect (i.e., people wish to win and this happens more often than normal chance allows). The author also mentions some other researches that correlate high geomagnetic field activity with high PK effects like poltergeists. They are:

Braud, W.G. and S.P. Dennis. (1989). “Geophysical variables and behaviour: LVIII.” Perceptual and Motor Skills 68: 1243-1254.

Gearhart, L. And M. A. Persinger. (1986). “Geophysical variables and behaviour: XXXIII.” Perceptual and Motor Skills 62: 463-466.

Palmer J., S. Baumann and C.A> Simmonds. (2005). “Factors affecting the relationships between human intentionality and the hemolysis of red blood cells”. Proceedings of The Parapsychological Association 48th Annual Convention, pp. 119-130.

After doing extensive statistical analysis on several sets of data, the author concludes that the: “analysis at hand shows that the stronger parameter might be the direct influence of solar activity and not GMF [Geomagnetic field]. This might indicate a complex interaction of a direct solar influence accompanied by interactions of the moon with the earth’s magnetosphere during full moon.” (p. 258).

Etzold article is about physical and astronomical parameters that could be enabling PK psi effects. I found it interesting because it relates to some analysis of UFO waves. The Swedish researcher Ragnar Foshufvud took UFO sighting data selected by Hynek and compared them to sunspot cycle data (see Foshufvud, Ragnar (1980). “Unidentified flying objects – A physical phenomenon”. Pursuit 13(2)). He found that sightings increase at the beginning of the cycle when sunspots are getting to their maximum. A similar study by Claude Poher was able to correlate the rise of geomagnetic activity on Earth with increases in UFO sightings (see Poher, Claude and Jacques Vallée. (1975). “Basic patterns in UFO observations". Annual Conference of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautic, Pasadena, California, 20-22 January). It is yet another indication, but not proof, that UFO sightings and PK effects seem to share similar patterns, and thus they might share fundamentally the same origin.

Orme-Johnson et al’s article

Orme-Johnson and others’ article looked at first interesting, as it represents a pragmatic approach as to how collective unconscious could be affected by reducing social stress in conflict areas. But their study is problematic in a number of ways. The authors’ main thesis is that if a small number of people practice transcendental meditation (TM), social problems and conflict decrease. Then, the authors describe an experiment in Israel and Lebanon in the 1980s and think they found statistically valid correlations between TM and reductions in social conflicts. Although they never mentioned the concept of psi, it is certainly linkable to the Global Consciousness Project.

The problem is that it is a bunch of psychologists who really have no understanding of social sciences and social realities. They mention Jung and Durkheim’s approach to collective consciousness (which is incorrect in the case of Jung, as he developed the concept of collective unconscious) to say that “such theories will not have a major influence on mainstream psychology until they are empirically testable”. (p. 778). Yet, they are accepting without any critique TM, based on the Vedic religion. From an epistemological standpoint their argument is completely flawed. Sociological theories cannot be verified the same way as psychological ones because they are ontologically different. And, of course, their argument is asymmetric as they accept religiously based concepts (i.e., based on faith) while rejecting sociological arguments based on empirical research (even if such research is epistemologically different than what they are used to). Furthermore, their key concept of social coherence (i.e., less social conflict) is a prescriptive concept that sociologists have long rejected. Conflicts and violence are a normal part of human societies. As well, their approach is fundamentally reductionist “because the individual is seen as the unit of collective consciousness, restricted individual development can be identified as a fundamental source of collective stress as well” (p. 780). Sociologists have shown, long time ago, that a social fact like collective consciousness can only be understood if one looks at it as a social object (not as an aggregate of individual wills). But their greatest problem, in using their own perspective, is that there are a myriad of other social and political factors that would need to be controlled to be sure that TM has any effect on anything. And again, social and political factors can only be studied as social objects, not as aggregates of individual psychological issues. Finally, I think they use the wrong terminology when they introduce the notion of collective consciousness. If TM has any effect, it would be on the collective unconscious, as it is a phenomenon akin to psi effects.

Not a whole lot of useful information can be extracted out this article. However, it is a useful reminder that a psychological approach (i.e., using the individual as the fundamental unit of analysis) is not suited to tackle social objects. This, in turn, is also reminder that any linkage between parasociology and parapsychology will have to be carefully adapted to ensure effective epistemological and ontological correspondence or translation.

Rojcewicz’s article

The article by Rojewicz is interesting as it shows that “Men in Black” (MIB) sightings could be construed as a paranormal phenomenon. The author shows that many of the usual traits of MIBs are similar to traits found in descriptions of meetings with the devil (black being the key color, the entity knows things about the witness that only he or she knows, unusual speech, come in group of three, strange walk, strange synchronistic events, etc.). This echoes Jacques Vallée’s analysis of folkloric tales having similarities with the entities associated to UFOs in his book Passport to Magonia.

What is more interesting is that the author rejects the all too common condescending attitude in folklore studies where “the scholar knows ‘reality,’ and what the informants know is ‘folklore’.” (p. 157). Rojewicz suggests that MIB could be a form of tulpa, an idea taken from the Tibetan mystical tradition, which he defines as “materialized thought-form”. (p. 154). He cites the key book on this topic by Alexandra David-Neel, Magic and Mystery in Tibet (New York: Penguin, 1973). He also suggests that “MIB are materialized tulpoidal forms stabilized by collective fear—of ‘Big Brother,’ of terrorism and violence of hijacking, of all forms of personal intimidation.” (p. 154). This is no proof, of course, but it is yet another indication that UFOs are more likely to be a psi phenomenon (of a collective rather individual nature) than something explainable through the ETH.

Lastly, Rojewicz offers some methodological piece of advice that I find useful. He cites David Hufford. (1977). “Humanoids and anomalous lights: Taxonomic and epistemological problems”. Fabula 18: 234-241, stating that “believed accounts that look to repeating occurrence as their authority must be evaluated as to their objective nature before the question of their stability and distribution can be adequately be answered. There exists no good epistemological and ontological reasons to distinguish descriptions from explanations if the folklorist cannot seriously entertain the possibility that a real experience lies behind traditional belief.” (pp. 157-158). In other words, the content of discourses about strange phenomena must be assessed first in looking in the actual events that were reported. Otherwise, it is not possible to make any inferences about the structure of what is essentially construed as a “rumour”. However, implicit in this statement is that one does not need a unified materialistic explanation to understand folkloric traditions either (like the ETH). Folkloric traditions, like the ones about MIB and the devil, share many similarities pointing towards a common origin, but the content is not fully identical thus pointing also towards invalidating naive materialistic explanations (like the ETH).

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

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