Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reading Notes – Visions, Apparitions and Alien Visitors

This post is reviewing a book from Hilary Evans. Evans is often referred to as author of the Psycho-social Hypothesis (PSH) by ETH ufologists. Once again, it is a label can be misleading as many ETH ufologists use it to describe approaches that assume there is no objective basis to the phenomenon. Evans does not agree with the ETH, but like Bertrand Méheust, he does deny that the phenomenon has an objective basis. Evans is quite clear in his introduction:

“[...] there is really no point in your proceeding [to read the rest of the book] unless you are willing to accept that the majority of these people really did, in some form, have the experience they reported. What form that experience seemed to take, and what its real form was, is another matter—indeed it is the matter of this book. In those cases where the witnesses offered an interpretation of their experience, we shall not necessarily accept that interpretation. But in a very great many cases they did not do so; they simply said what had happened to them, and hoped that someone else would explain it.” (p. 12).

The full notice is: Evans, Hilary. (1984). Visions, Apparitions and Alien Visitors: A comparative study of the entity enigma. London: Book Club Associates.

Entities, society and psi effects

Evans, in his book, proposes an interesting tour of various phenomena linked to the notion of meeting entities in a spontaneous and unexpected way. It covers entities in dreams, in child companions, hauntings, Marian apparitions, Men-in-Black, aliens, etc. He also looks into entities created by humans through shamanistic and magical traditions, experiments with drugs and the ones like in the Philip experiment. Although there are a number of differences between these various experiences, they have some elements in common too. They are all visual experiences, whether the person is awake or not, or using their physical eyes or not; the entities exist as images. The second key consideration is that they cause a conflict between the subjective impression we have of them and the objective evaluation we put into the experience (i.e., it appears impossible or outlandish). These two elements, the first one phenomenological, and the second one socio-cultural (i.e. what is possible/special or not is matter of social conventions), can be described as the core definition of any entity encounter.

If one looks at the content of these experiences, one can find that in dreams, apparitions, and in many hauntings the entities tend to be known persons, or knowable after some search. In the case of hallucinations, hypnagogic dreams (i.e. just before falling asleep) and childhood companions the entities appear to be unknowable strangers. In the case of visions, demonic sightings, Men-in-Black and aliens the entities tend to be stereotypical.

For the alien category specifically, Evans underlines that “UFO entities look and to a large extent behave as though they are as solid as human beings; they have longer and more detailed communication with their percipients than almost any other entity; they are more clearly associated with a particular cultural context than any other categories apart from religious visions [hence their stereotypical nature]; and they are readily identified by percipients as being what they seem to be, in the same strange way that religious visions are for the most part known to be so and not something else.” (p. 156-157).

Evans considers that the stereotypical nature of alien visitations can be better explained by introducing the concept of collective unconscious. “[...] when an individual percipient sees an entity, does he do so as an individual—seeking a solution for his individual problem—or as a member of the community—seeing a symbol of universal significance that expresses the communal angst of his place and time? This is where Jung’s hypothesis works superbly: for it proposes that the percipient undergoes his experience both as an individual and as a child of his time. And the result is that he sees an entity that has a communal significance—the Virgin Mary, an alien visitor—but with specific attributes that relate to his own situation—the Virgin gives a message of personal comfort, the alien shares his preoccupation with ecology or The Bomb.” (p. 252).

However, he concedes that more is needed. One possibility is the idea of an “image-bank”, known to Jungian analysts as the “Absolute Knowledge” and to occultists as the “Akashic Records”. There is information in the entity experience that is transmitted to the percipients without using the normal physical means, which implies that some form of ESP effect has occurred. It is in this context that Evans wrote ”but even if we have to leave open the question of whether the agency was internal or external, this much is certain: either way, access to some external source of information occurred, and something like the image-bank hypothesis is needed to account for it” (p. 256). For instance, when someone sees an apparition of a known person at the very time when that person dies while being physically separated by hundreds or thousands of kilometres, they often see them in the way they were dressed at the time of death. This is information passed along without using normal physical means (and this exactly the definition of ESP). Similarly, when Betty Hill gets her “pregnancy test” through a method to be invented a few years later, information about the future was passed along. In a way, it is possible to speculate that entity apparitions can be construed, at least in part, as an involuntary form of remote-viewing, and where like in remote-viewing raw ESP signals and imagination get mixed up.

Another important hypothesis that Evans looked into is the “psi-substance”, or materialization through psi effects. Many apparitions have some physical effects that can be measured, like in the case of hauntings. Hence, for Evans, “whatever they originate, by whatever means they penetrate to the mind of the percipient, those entities are to some degree material artefacts”. (p. 262). And he adds that “[...] if not a psi-substance, then it will have to be something else equally revolutionary. For somehow we have to account for these entities which appear as a ball of light and slowly grow into full forms; for apparitions that gradually take shape in an empty room; for figures seen by two or more people simultaneously, or by one witness when it leaves the room and by another when it enters another; for entities who bring information, or carry it in the form of identifiable clothing and the like. None of these things can happen without some kind of material dimension; and for that dimension, ‘psi-substance’ is as good a working label as any other.” (p. 263).

In the same spirit as Schwartz’ s (1983) suggestion that some UFO experiences can be some sort of telepathically shared hallucinations, Evans considers that the partial material dimension of the entity experience must complemented by something else. As he wrote, “one of the many puzzling aspects of entity sightings is their ambiguous character, the way they combine elements that seem to indicate an external source with others that seem to refer back to the percipient himself”. (p. 264). Evans notes that in the 1970s (once again!) two noted French ufologists (Pierre Guérin and Michel Monnerie) separately came to the conclusion that the UFO experience appears to combine objective and subjective elements. Although Guérin and Monnerie did not agree on what caused people to see things and yet sincerely report them as true. Building on Claude Rifat’s research on the brain, it appears that various forms of radiation can cause hallucinations (hence an external objective source), but like in the case of dreams it draws from the percipient’s unconscious images (this is also very much in line with Budden’s research). Although Evans agrees that a bio-chemical trigger is likely at play here, it does not explain why two or more people have the same hallucination, nor how can they get information without physical means. The shared telepathic dream hypothesis would explain the above, without invalidating the notion of a bio-chemical trigger. However, more research to validate this hypothesis is required.

Among his other conclusions, Evans states that “Though there are differences in kind between the entities thus seen, these differences can generally be traced to the percipient’s social and cultural background, and do not necessarily imply fundamental differences between the phenomena themselves. It does appear, though, that certain states of mind and/or body are conducive to certain kinds of experience”. (p. 299). Another one is that “while in most cases it is reasonable to suppose that the experience originates within the mind of the percipient himself, there are some cases where the most reasonable assumption is that the sighting is initiated by the apparent [the perceived entity], or by some agent controlling the apparent: that is, by some source external to the percipient” (p. 299).

Evans book is very much in line with the discourse about UFO and entities that was emerging during the 1970s. His approach, however, is interesting as he takes into consideration a wider array of entity experience, the alien in spaceship being only one of them. It is interesting to note that for him the notion of collective unconscious is more applicable to the UFO phenomenon (and the Marian apparitions) because of their stereotypical nature. But like many before and after him, he does not provide an explanation for inner dynamics of the collective unconscious. It is also interesting to note that his key conclusions are quite similar to what has been integrated into the model I developed out of a review of the literature. His research confirms further that the basic structure of the model I developed is in line with what is known about UFOs, alien apparitions and other anomalous phenomena.

Further thoughts

In the light of this review, it is now quite clear that our knowledge of the UFO phenomenon has not made much progress since the late 1970s/early 1980s. Many key ideas and notions were developed then, but were not pursued vigorously afterward. It is probably due in large part to the Roswell/Majestic hysteria, which did provide any room for anything else to be published but entertainment-like books and documentaries about aliens and conspiracies.

The hysteria has now subsided, but the field of ufology is also in serious decline. Key organizations such as APRO disappeared in the early 2000s after the death of the last co-founder; BUFORA is now essentially a minor ufological website on the net; the Belgian SOBEP that became so famous after the 1989-90 UFO wave has been dissolved in 2008, and many other could be listed here. Many active authors are now retired or moved on to other things, among them Jacques Vallée, Richard Hall, Jerome Clark, Jenny Randles, Paul Kimball, and Nick Pope. Another indicator of the decline is that in 2007, no major book was published to celebrate 60 years of ufology, while there were such books in 1987 for the 40th, and for the 50th in 1997. Lastly, there has been no major UFO wave in the North America or Europe since the Belgian one of 1989-1990, hence the phenomenon has not tried to make itself particularly interesting for close to an entire generation.

The task of parasociology is therefore multiple. On one hand, it has to develop further some keys ideas formed in the 1970s, while developing new ones, such as a better understanding of the inner dynamic of the collective unconscious. On the other hand, it is also an important opportunity to fill the void that the contracting ETH is leaving right now. However, the best way to do it remains to encourage a radical paradigm shift rather trying to engage in a “fight” with the remnants of the ETH.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet


Glenda said...

It is sad that as the devoted researchers move on. There are fewer to take their place. Media, that is where the bucks are and no one riducules them for their work as it is for entertainment for the masses... But for the ones who truly have unexplained events happen in their lives even those devoted to this feild often right them off even if it is unintentional, all in all, it is a sad dilema indeed..... Glenda

Eric Ouellet said...

Hello Glenda,

It may not be so sad after all. I really think that ETH ufology has been in a dead end for a long long time, and it is a good time to renew the field with people who take radically new appproaches. A major shift is required, and this usually happens when the old guard goes away, and the new guard tries to start afresh, reject the key assumptions shared by the old guard.