Sunday, November 1, 2009

Parasociology: An update

After over a year of active posting, it is time to provide a comprehensive update as to where parasociology stands. I think it is possible to say that the foundations, challenges and future opportunities are now better known, and that the research agenda is clearer. As well, it is possible to affirm that the case of UFOs and related phenomena remains a useful test case for the new discipline.

UFOs and parasociology

Most theories in ufology have a limited empirical base to support their arguments, and it is especially true for the ETH. The ETH being a materialist hypothesis (nuts and bolts spaceships and flesh and blood aliens) require a fundamental material proof, which has not been found so far. Any other discussions about what a spaceship or an alien could or should look like can only be conjectures in the context of such materialist hypothesis. This fundamental incoherence of the ETH should be enough for any serious researcher to stay away from what the ETH has produced so far. As well, most of the empirical data is at best shallow and purely descriptive and at worst built in a Hume-like empiricist construct that forgoes any non-superficial explanation. It is therefore critical for parasociology to start from what is known to investigate the unknown.

A number of serious ufological authors (Randles 1983; Hufford 1977; Schwartz 1983; Spencer 1994) have clearly showed that there is an ontological difference between seeing an unknown object in the sky and having an encounter with non-human entities (believed to be of extra-terrestrial origin). As well, these two types of experience are oftentimes quite different from a phenomenological standpoint. It is therefore important to distinguish them appropriately. Yet, if one looks at the existing evidence, it is not possible to clearly separate physical and psycho-social dynamics, as one or both can be present in their entire spectrum from CE1 to CE3.

Some dynamics part of a larger explanation

The research has found so far that a somewhat material reality is present, and that unusual electromagnetism is often at play. A number of authors have noted that electromagnetism, either natural or artificial, is often associated with UFOs as well as with other ostentatious psi phenomena (Braud & Dennis 1989; Brovetto & Maxia 2008; Budden 1995, 1998; Devereux 1982; Fort 1923; Foshufvud 1980; Hecht & Dussault 1987; Keel 1968; Klass 1966a, 1966b; Persinger 1975, 1979, 1987, 1990; Persinger & Koren 2001; Pelegrin 1988; Poher & Vallée 1975; Schaut & Persinger 1985; Shneiderman 1987).

Common Narrative Structure
Other authors (Evans 1984; Favre 1978; Graystone 1969; Harvey-Wilson 2001; Keel 1975; Rogo 1982; Vallée 1969, Viéroudy 1978b) have noted that sightings of ETs are showing the same deep narrative structure as other non-ET apparition experiences, which points towards a common psycho-social dynamics. They tend to agree that the content of such experiences appear to be idiosyncratic and that the invariant is the structure of the experience rather than the content. To reject their arguments would require that one must explain why Marian apparitions, CE3, hauntings, etc., have so much in common while the witnesses would be supposedly dealing with completely different types of non-human entities. I am not aware of any ET ufologists or spiritualists that can offer a valid critique to reject the arguments of the authors mentioned above. As far as our knowledge extends, it is possible to say that the witnesses are somehow stimulated by an external source and they then provide the content of the experience, either through psi effects or by means of post-event interpretation.

Psychokinesis as human activity
One possible counter-argument would be that we, human, can only detect non-human entities through psi means, and that those means are always mixing up the signal with our cultural and social referents. The problem with this counter-argument is that it is improvable, as discussed in the last post. As well, we know based on the research on PK and RSPK (Fodor 1959; Gauld & Cornell 1979; Geley 1924; Heath 2003; Houran & Lange 2001; Lucadou & Zahradnik 2004; Osty & Osty 1932; Owen 1964; Puhle 2001; Rogo 1977, 1987; Roll 1972, 2003; Roll & Persinger 2001), including the Philip Experiment (Owen & Sparrow 1976), that the human mind can influence matter, to include creating or teleporting object and temporary apparitions of non-human entities through psychokinetic means. The central issue here is that any explanation of these strange events does not require the participation of any non-human entities. This is part of what is known, while hypothesizing the existence of ETs, surviving souls of the death people, etc. remain to this very day only improvable hypotheses. However hard this may be to accept for the believers, this is reality.

Belief and acceptance of the paranormal
Another dynamics could be generally labelled as “belief”, but understood as a general acceptance, consciously or unconsciously, of the possibility of paranormal events. Such belief has been found critical in a number of ways and linked to the witnesses’ prior experience (Basterfield 2001; Basterfield & Thalbourne 2001; Heath 2003; Keel 1988; Lucadou 1995; Phillips 1993; Schmeidler 1952; Spanos et al. 1993; Wiseman & Smith 1994). At a sociological level, the role of prior plausibility structures has also been shown as important in providing the basic material for making sense of these experiences (Bishop 2005; Carroll 1985; Fernandes & D’Armada 2005; Goode 2000; Méheust 1978; David-Néel 1929; Winkelman et al 1982). Furthermore, as belief plays a key role, the distinction between fraud and genuine effect has been found as unhelpful, as fraud and cheating is often necessary to stimulate genuine effects (Batcheldor 1984; Fodor 1958, 1959; Hansen 2001; Reihart 1994; Schrenck Notzing 1913). It is also quite clear that the unconscious dimensions of such belief plays the most important role in producing such effects (Eisenbud 1983; Favre 2004; Fodor 1958, 1959; Jung 1958, 1964 Rhine 1954), and therefore witnesses can be active participants in these events without even be aware of it, while attributing the events to an external force (like ETs, Virgin Mary, ghosts, etc.).

There are two types of triggers that have been identified to explan how involuntary psychokinetic effects are created. The first one has been covered in the RSPK literature cited above, and relates to micro social dynamics dysfunctions, as well as personal trauma (Reiner 2004).The second set of triggers identified is related to macro social dynamics, which have been described as either expressions of a collective unconscious or national gestalt (Broad 1953; Clark & Coleman 1975; Fodor 1959; Freixedo 1977; Fuller 1980; Kottmeyer 1996; Radin 2006; Vallée 1992; Viéroudy 1978a), as activation of archetypical numinosity and synchronicity (Brunstein 1979; Combs & Holland 1996; Fowler 2004; Jung 1958, 1964; Rojcewicz 1987; Viéroudy 1983), or as telepathically shared events (Gurney, Myers & Podmore 1886; Orme-Johnson et al 1988; Schwartz 1983; Warcollier 1928, 1962). The diversity of explanation to make sense of the macro social triggers points to the equivocal empirical knowledge on this issue. The question, however, is not a matter as whether such macro social trigger exists as the evidence pointing in that direction is quite strong, but it is rather how does it work?

Challenges and opportunities

To answer this last question, a number of avenues have been explored. One of them was to establish a closer linkage between the individual unconscious and a collectively shared unconscious. If the sociological notion of collective consciousness and the psychoanalytical notion of collective unconscious shared the same intellectual origin (Greenwood 1990; Staude 1976), the empirical evidence to link them is sparse. From a bottom-up perspective, the tradition called group analytic offers good evidence of the impact of the collective consciousness on the individual unconscious (Dalal 2001; Furth 1992; Weinberg, Nuttman-Shwartz & Gilmore 2005; Zeddies 2002), to include creating possible psi effects (Powell 1991; Thygesen 2008). From a top-down perspective, some social scientists showed that the collective unconscious influences the individual unconscious (Anderson 1983; Castoriadis 1975; Ginach 2004; Irwin 1994; Leledakis 1995; Lévy-Strauss 1963; Machotka 1964; Senghaas-Knobloch & Volmerg 1988). There are no known researchers, however, who attempted to provide an articulated explanation as to how the collective unconscious may create individual psi events. This issue remains the crux of the matter.

One of the key issues to move forward is to develop operational concepts for empirical research. Given the amorphous nature of what is described under the label “collective unconscious” and other similar labels, most methodologies can only provide approximations (Elias 1978; King 1996; Main 2006; Shewmaker & Berenda 1962). On the other hand, there are a number of PK phenomena (including UFOs) that can be pinpointed to specific physical events. Once again, there is here an obvious ontological discrepancy between two realms of reality which requires to be bridged. Psychoanalysis, anthropology and qualitative sociology have proposed to use symbolic interpretation to bridge similar gaps. It is a step forward, but it is clearly a one-way bridge that provides an incomplete answer. As Dean (2002) as shown, interpretation can be highly problematic and might be linked to the radically non-deterministic nature of human creativity, which in turn would preclude any bridging from epistemological standpoint.

There is, however, a promising lead in the concept of morphic field developed by Rupert Sheldrake (1981, 2006). It could provide the missing elements to complete the “ontological bridging”. It will be explored in a more detailed way in future posts.

Eric Ouellet ©2009


Lawrence said...

Eric, when are you writing a book?

Seriously I hope you are putting all this material together for some book project. In fact you had better be doing that, when I think of all the third-rate ufology nonsense out there, and too little that counterbalance's all that with a scholarly and genuinely scientific approach to the topic...

So Eric this is not a request, this is a demand..write or at the very least edit a book on ufology already (if you are not in the process of doing that already)!

Eric Ouellet said...

Hello Lawrence,

It is indeed my intent to produce a book out of this material, so your demand is being answered! Given that there is no ETs and governmental conspiracies in whatever I will publish, I expect it will be hard to find a publisher. But I am will to use a vanity press if needed. Actually, some of the best books in parapsychology (Heath and Hansen in particular) were published through a vanity press.



Glenda said...

Your target audience no doubt will be for university students. I can see your work and research in high demand in education..... And of course old folk like myself who enjoys examining these phenonomen from all angles....

Lawrence said...

Glenda, when it comes to the natural, physical and social sciences, the universities across the western world are very orthodox, conventional and all about perpetuating status quo beliefs, which have become sacred cows (and that includes scientific materialism). A parasocial approach to ufology which embraces unorthodox ideas in psychology, sociology, cultural studies and in the physical sciences is simply anathema to the universities. In fact I couldn't think of any other subject that would face more oppostion and hostility in a universtiy environment than Eric's!

A discipline like parapsychology barely exists on the margins of academia and continues to face ridicule and censorship, and almost no funding in the university environment. Ufology is considered even more way out and disrespectable than parapsychology even, ufology doesn't really even get a look in except maybe from a cultural studies/folklore perspective and then even there it is barely present. A parasocial interpretation of ufology that embraces almost every single taboo in a respectable university
"education" - in both the social and physical sciences (parapsychology, quantum mechanics, mysticism/shamanism, morphic resonance, unconventional religious ideas, history of occult lore etc) is simply a non-starter. You have a better chance of studying Jewish history and religion in the Taliban controlled regions of Arghanistan and Pakistan than studying ufology from a multi-dicipline approach and in a serious way in a university!

To Eric, it depresses me to hear that you feel the need to go to a Vanity Press for publication. Surely you don't need to go this route, I mean I don't keep up with the world of publishing and I know a lot of more independent, scholarly and Fortean minded imprints and publishing houses have shut down or been absorbed by the big publishers, but if D Scott Rogo, John Spencer, Jenny Randles, Hillary Evans and Vallee just off the top of my head didn't need to go the route of a Vanity Press I don't see why you need to. I can't believe that Heath and Hansen went the route of vanity publishing, that is so depressing. I think you should speak to some writers and editors who would be supportive of your ideas/outlook and themselves write and publish on related topics, I am sure they could put you onto some publishing houses/imprints that would be interested in your book, or have the contacts that might be of help. I can think of a few...

Eric Ouellet said...

I must say that I agree with Lawrence about the academic publishing environment, as being the most conservative and the least willing to take risk. My project is really at strange intersection: trying to have a scholarly discussion about ignored topics of academia.

On the other hand, general publishers look for the largest readership possible, and a few conspiracies and ET intrigues is almost mandatory for any book of UFOs. And a scholarly approach is not popular with the general public.

I did not say, however, that I will use for sure a vanity press (or self-publishing), I will still try to find a specialized publisher, and indeed maybe getting a preface by another author would help.

Glenda said...

Free elective studies for credits are still offered at universities and with the slowley evolving mindset in the west I can still phathom certain university sectors eventually accepting this type of research as a piont of study in an ellective coarses. In education as well it is about consumer demand and universities like to take your money don't they? Why not give the consumer what they want... Just look at the boards which examine this phenomenon eg. psican. There are a number I am sure who would support this work and those young enough wishing to expand their knowledge base in this area.. Anyway that being said Good Luck with your book!!!

Eric Ouellet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric Ouellet said...

Yes, you may be right Glenda. This reminds me of the sole scientific parapsychologist in Quebec, Louis Bélanger, who did his Ph.D. studies with Hans Bender in Germany never became a "full-fledge" but taught a number of elective courses in various universities and community colleges. By combining a book and a textbook, it might be published by a "regular" publisher.