Monday, June 2, 2014
Belgian UFO wave – 1989-1992 – Part 5
This post is the last of this series on the Belgian UFO wave of 1989-1992. As announced before, the Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI) developed by the parapsychologist Walter von Lucadou will be used again to assess if the general unfolding of the UFO wave occurred in ways similar to a RSPK (Recurrent Spontaneous PsychoKinesis) event (aka poltergeist).
As discussed several times on this blog, a number of UFO researchers, like John Keel, who went beyond the simplistic “nuts-and-bolts” approach to the phenomenon, compared it to some sort of large scale poltergeist, or grand scale haunting of the skies. The case for studying the UFO phenomenon as a paranormal event is substantive, and has also been presented extensively on this blog.
The Model of Pragmatic Information
The MPI is based on the modern physics concept of non-locality, where at the quantum level particles seem to share common information without any observable mechanism to explain how such sharing occur. This is particularly notable through a photon splitter experiment. Out of this general notion of information that can be shared non-locally (i.e. without direct and observable cause and effect), Walter von Lucadou (who is also a physicist) proposed that the central notion of “psi” in parapsychology can be explained by non-locality (von Lucadou, 1995).
This applies not only to the acquisition of information through non-normal means (usually referred to as Extra-Sensorial Perception, or ESP), but also to “mind-over-matter” (usually referred to as Psycho-Kinesis, or PK). For modern physicists, matter is more than mass and energy, it is also information (such as speed, direction, relative position, internal organization, etc.). Seen from this angle, psi is therefore information in the mind of someone that is becoming shared non-locally about knowledge (ESP), or about matter (PK). Yet, this non-local sharing of information can only occur if there is enough indeterminacy in the system at hand for a psi event to occur (von Lucadou & Zahradnik, 2004).
This would explain why most psi events seem to be linked to deep unconscious processes where there is a lot of symbolic flux and possibilities, if compared to the conscious mind. More a system is consciously observe, the less indeterminacy it has, and therefore the less likelihood that a psi effect would occur. This would explain two well-known issues in parapsychology. First, spontaneous psi events tend to be much more ostensible (or big) than the one planned and strictly observed through parapsychology lab testing. The second is the well-known declining effect seen is parapsychology lab testing, where the first few attempts tend to vary more from statistical probabilities (as the experimenter does not know what to expect), but the more testing there is the more it becomes closer to statistical averages because what is expected is know and actively looked for (von Lucadou, Römer, & Walach, 2007).
It is in this context that von Lucadou developed a psycho-social model of RSPK, as other people around the event are also influencing it as they observe it. The model to study RSPKs has four phases:
(a) Surprise. Typically, there is an individual who is living significant emotional turmoil (oftentimes a teenager, but not always), but because of some social dynamics cannot express it. The use psi, by banging walls, moving objects, etc., becomes an alternate way to communicate about their psychological turmoil. That person is called the “focus person” because the psi events are focussed around him or her. Yet, the people surrounding the focus person are also playing a role by their surprise, and by starting to think that the explanation is to be attributed to some sort of malevolent non-human entity (demon, evil spirit, ghost, etc.), rather than to the focus person. In doing so, these people called the “environment” maintain indeterminacy in the system by avoiding to observe the real system at play.
(b) Displacement. After sometime, the events become known and other people join in. They are typically believers in the existence of non-human entities, such as psychics, self-declared parapsychologists, etc. These newcomers are called the “naive observers,” because of their belief that non-human entities are responsible for the phenomenon. The naïve observers redirect the search for the problem source away from the actual source (the focus person and his/her distress) hence there is a displacement of attention. This allows the indeterminacy to be maintained, so that the psi phenomenon can continue but usually in a different manner, as the message from the focus person seeks to be understood by the environment.
(c) Decline. After more time elapsing, other people join in, but with a much more critical view of the events. They start to assess more carefully what is going on, asking more thorough questions about what is going on, introduce even measuring instruments, and at times can make a connection between the events (which usually have a symbolic meaning) and the unhappiness of the focus person. These people are called the “critical observers”. Given that they pay a much closer look to the systems at hand, they reduce the indeterminacy and by doing so the intensity of the phenomenon drops sharply.
(d) Suppression. At the end, society through the authorities (police, social services, municipal works, etc.) get involved because of the disturbances. They usually declare the phenomenon a hoax though the media, often by accusing the focus person and his/her environment of being responsible for all this. By having the authorities focussing intensely on the phenomenon, no indeterminacy is left, and there is no more psi effect occurring.
The Belgian UFO wave as a large scale RSPK
Like for most RSPKs studied by von Lucadou, the Belgian UFO wave started gently leading to surprising event. As discussed in the previous post, late September 1989 would probably be a meaningful start date for the wave. The SOBEPS, when the wave became public, were at first a bit worried that the September public announcement of a UFO landing in the USSR would create a climate of ridicule affecting them. What is clear, however, is that the symbolism of triangular objects in the sky of Belgium was slowly rising from September. There is little doubt that the first night of massive observations (29 November 1989) came as a surprise to everyone. The SOPBEPS only realized that something was going after receiving many calls from witnesses. Those calls, however, came a few days after the events, and were sustained in part by the televised interview of the two Eupen police officers, and especially the wide press coverage of 1 December 1989. In other words, many witnesses realized that what they saw was a much bigger “event” than they thought, and it was at that point that they decided to report their experience to the SOBEPS. Hence, the surprise period could be defined as being from late September to about 1 December 1989.
The surprise was not only a matter of witnessing a large event, but also according to SOBEPS, most witnesses of the night of 29 November did not know what to make of all this. Some speculated that it could be extra-terrestrial visitations, but without pursuing this interpretation further. All those witnesses, from the point of view of the MPI, constituted the environment of the event, the ones who were surprised; the ones who started to think about the extra-terrestrial explanation (i.e. non-human entities being responsible for the disturbance). Like in other UFO wave cases analyzed through the lenses of the MPI, who is the focus person remains unclear at this time.
Starting on 2 December 1989, the SOBEPS becomes actively involved in the events. From the point of view of the MPI, they collectively constitute the naïve observers because, in spite of their rigor and sober approach, they remained committed to prove the Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), i.e. ultimately assigning the origin of the phenomenon to non-human entities. New observations are recorded but at a much lower rate from none to half a dozen per day, until the next large observation day of 11 December 1989 with 24 observations. There are intense discussions in the press, especially during the period of 12 to 18 December 1989 (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 118-122). On 18 December, the SOBEPS gives a first press conference, well attended by journalist (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 123). It is really at this point that the notion of a wave of triangular UFOs is shaped in social representations.
The SOBEPS gave a description of the more common elements emerging from the witnesses report. However, as discussed before the triangular shape was common to just about half of the observations. By doing so, the SOBEPS, consciously or not, gave the impression that there were stronger commonalities between the observations that there actually were. In turn, this creates a notion that a “nuts-and-bolts” ET spaceship visitation could be more plausible. The notion of ET visitations is present also in the public realm but the press remains for the most part relatively objective. That press conference was in many ways a form of displacement as the ET visitation hypothesis becomes more prevalent.
What is particularly interesting with the Belgian UFO wave was that another social dynamics emerged during the displacement phase. Also on 2 December 1989, the Authorities (both the police and the military) started their own investigation, away from the public spotlight (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 73). On 6 December, the police approached the SOBEPS in order to collaborate with them on the UFO sightings (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 79). If one reads carefully the SOBEPS book, however, it became apparent that the main objective of the police was to “get ride” of all the UFO-related work, as they were submerged with calls and reports. This attitude is certainly comprehensible, as the police have limited resources, and dealing with crime remains its institutional priority, not UFOs. On 9 December 1989, the press reports that the Belgian military investigates the UFO wave (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 78). On 15 December, the military gives an interview in the press confirming what was reported about their investigation a week before (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 122). On the 18 December SOBEPS press conference, the Belgian military has representatives in support of the SOBEPS and 21 December, the Minister of Defense confirms that they cannot explain what is going on (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 125-126). Then in January 1990, the SOBEPS is invited to visit the Glons radar station (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 143); by the end of February 1990 an official letter of collaboration the SOBEPS is drafted by the military (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 144-145).
This set the context for the further involvement of both the military and the SOBEPS in the aftermath of the March 30-31 UFO. This led, ultimately to the public release in June 1990 of the report about the chase. By then, however, the military would continue to collaborate with the SOBEPS, but at a much lower level. In many instances, as a personal commitment of DeBrouwer who became a two-star Air Force general. The investigation of the March UFO chase led the Belgian military to come to the same conclusion that all other armed forces who investigated UFO before: there are things in the sky that we cannot explain, but they do not seem to be a threat and we do not have the resources or the mandate to investigate them further (De Brouwer, 1991: 490-491). Interestingly, by June the decline in observations becomes much more marked until the one-day spike of March 1991, and the one of July 1992.
The active involvement of the authorities, including providing public support to the SOBEPS by being present at their 18 December press conference, constitutes a change in pattern if compared with “traditional” RSPKs. In the MPI, the authorities usually try to quell any rumors of unexplainable phenomena. But in the case of the Belgian UFO wave, the response was the opposite. This is very much comparable to what was found in the MPI analysis of the Zeitoun Marian apparitions. When the authorities are supporting the naïve observers, then phenomenon does not decline sharply.
The decline phase could be assessed as starting in June 1990, where there are few observations on average until the spike of March 1991. However, there were “critical observers” involved early on. The first sceptic attack in the Belgian press occurred on 8 December 1989 (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 77), and the next day (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 113). On 11 December 1989, the hypothesis that a F-117 could be the culprit is discussed in the press, and other sceptical hypotheses about AWACS are presented over the following days (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 114-115).
As a curious coincidence, on 19 December the US invaded Panama, and the F-117 is for the first time publically acknowledged as being part of a real military operation. This will provide a lot of fuel for the F-117 hypothesis, as the plane’s shape and stealth ability became much more present in social representations. The critical observers will use extensively the F-117 in their counter-analysis of the Belgian UFO wave. In January 1990, the French popular science magazine Science & Vie, started what the SOBEPS called a “crusade” against the Belgian UFO wave reports (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 140). In May 1990, there are more sceptic attacks in the press (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991: 219).
In spite of the somewhat active presence of critical observers, it appears clear that they could not match the legitimacy that the military authorities gave to the SOBEPS by collaborating with them. Hence, the decline phase occurred but not so much because of the action of the critical observers, as much as the loss of interest by the authorities in June.
As noted by von Lucadou in his research on RSPKs, during the Decline phase the phenomenon may try a last ditch effort to get the message across. From that point of view, the two last spikes of observations in March 1991 and possibly July 1992 could constitute such last effort.
The wave was “officially” considered finished after the March 1991 spike of observations in the first SOBEPS book (published in 1991). The spike of July 1992 was added as an important event in the second book (published in 1994). Where does it end is a matter of interpretation, but definitely the wave ended. There was no cover-up per say, in the sense that the authorities did not intervene to quell the rumors about UFOs. Once more, a parallel can be established with the Zeitoun case study, where with the support of the authorities, an anomaly tends to die out of a loss of interest rather than by closing the indeterminacy by using the prestige of the authorities to focus on a particular explanation that excludes the possibility of a paranormal event.
As in the case of the 1952 UFO wave over Washington D.C., the focus person that would provide the psi force for the events is not obvious. Yet, by using a similar approach to the study of the 1952 wave, it is possible to propose a group of focus persons that could be at the centre of the wave. In this case, there was a social tension that appeared quite evidently, although it is not often noted by ufologists. The “intense” period of the wave, from November 1989 to late spring of 1990, is also exactly the period of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communist dictatorships in most of the Warsaw Pact countries, as noted in a previous post. It was the effective end of the Cold War. Yet, again and again, a more localized look provides some more interesting insights.
Most of the UFO sightings are geographically centered on NATO installations: the Glons radar station (near Liège) that was then one of the nerve centres of the AWACS surveillance system (and visited by the SOBEPS); Mons where the NATO military headquarters are located (SHAPE); the zone between Mons and Brussels (where the NATO political headquarter is situated) was the location of the March 1990 UFO chase. As well, many of the triangular objects observed in the sky of Belgium are very much reminiscent of the well-known NATO tri-dimensional dark metal sculpture of its logo at the entrance of the Brussels headquarters. If NATO can be credited for its bloodless victory at the end of the Cold War, it also lost its raison d’être, which is struggling to re-establish ever since.
Bougard, Michel and Lucien Clerebaut. (1991). "Chronique d'une vague". In SOBEPS, Vague d'OVNI sur la Belgique: Un dossier exceptionnel. Bruxelles: SOBEPS, pp. 51-296.
Walter von Lucadou. “The Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI)”. European Journal of Parapsychology 11 (1995): 58-75.
Walter von Lucadou, H. Römer, and H. Walach, “Synchronistic phenomena as entanglement correlations in generalized quantum theory”. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 14(4) (2007): 50-74.
Walter von Lucadou and F. Zahradnik. “Predictions of the Model of Pragmatic Information about RSPK”. Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association Convention 2004, available online at http://archived.parapsych.org/papers/09.pdf.