This blog is dedicated to the conceptual and empirical development of parasociology, a sub-discipline of sociology studying how societies and paranormal or “psi” phenomena interact.
It looks into phenomena like UFOs, Marian Apparitions, Poltergeists, and Parapsychology.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Elusive nature of paranormal phenomena - Follow up with interview at BoA
During the interview I
gave to Tim Binnall on Binnall of America, an
important question emerged, but we did not have enough time to explore it in
full. It is the notion that the more there are control measures to observe
possible psi effects, the less likely it is to be observed. This may appear as
a paradox at first, and a convenient excuse from the sceptic point of view.
However, there are good reasons for it.
This notion is not
just a philosophical point. It is rooted in empirical observations of
spontaneous anomalies. For instance, anyone familiar with “ghost hunting” has
experienced or heard about a strange phenomenon occurring only when the equipment
has been packed up, or when the camera is not working, or the battery is dead,
or it is at the wrong angle, etc. Similarly, camera dysfunctions have plagued
the “UFO hunting” history, and even if it works it produces only vague lights, quite
different from what people saw. The Belgian UFO wave discussed in Illuminations provides specific examples
of this. Jet fighter radars oftentimes loose the “object” as soon as it can do
a lock-on. Both the Belgian and Washington D.C. UFO waves, also discussed in Illuminations, provide well-documented
examples of this “elusiveness”.
who studied psi in a laboratory setting came to similar conclusions about
micro-psi effects. In fact, this notion of evasiveness is one of the key
characteristics of psi, supported by a wide consensus among parapsychologists. Already
in the early 20th century, the philosopher and psychologist William James was
also baffled by the elusiveness of psi. He wrote in 1909:
“For twenty-five years
I have been in touch with the literature on psychical research, and have had
acquaintance with numerous “researchers.” I have also spent a good many hours
in witnessing . . . phenomena. Yet I am theoretically no “further” than I was
at the beginning; and I . . . have been tempted to believe that the Creator has
eternally intended this department to remain baffling, to prompt our hopes and
suspicions all in equal measure, so that, although ghosts and clairvoyances,
and raps and messages from spirits, are always seeming to exist and can never be
fully explained away, they also can never be susceptible to full
corroboration.” (James, 1960, p. 310).
Since then, many others
added their voice to such observation about psi phenomena. Prominent
papapsychologists already noted on this blog like Batcheldor, Beloff, Braud,
Eisenbud, Hansen, von Lucadou, and White came over the years to very similar
conclusions (Kennedy, 2003, 54). The key question is why it is so. There are no
definite answer, but there are a few key hypotheses.
The first to
propose a hypothesis, without a surprise, was the founder of scientific
parapsychology, Joseph Banks Rhine. He noted in 1946 that psi phenomena seem to
be caused by mental processes that are deeply hidden in the unconscious part of
the human mind (Rhine, 1946). The unconscious mind is not only very hard to
access (hence the challenges of clinical psychology in helping people), but it
is also something in a constant state of flux with feelings, symbolisms and
ideas brewing. Most parapsychologists today would agree that the unconscious
part of the mind plays a central role in psi phenomena, but Rhine’s explanation
about the elusiveness, in the end, is not helping much. A number of other
parapsychologists tried to find other psychological variables to explain why
psi is so elusive. Among other variables proposed to explain the situation
are: the fear of psi (only happening when the conscious mind is not in charge),
losing feelings of spontaneity during lab testing (and thus showing up again
only when spontaneity is back), and the loss of confidence and /or belief in
producing psi when there are “pressures” to perform (and thus only happening
when pressure is off). These various psychological variables are certainly
playing a role in one way or another, but it seems that they play only a
parapsychologists like George Hansen considers that psi is something dynamic
and it is the resultant of a combination of pressures, where psi will only be
observable if people find themselves in an “in-between” zone, what he called
“liminality”. Psi seems to be stuck between pressures to be used as normal
human expression and the immense pressures against any form of psi, coming from
our socialization about what is normal and society in general, but also from representatives
of established religions and various economic and political institutions, and
of course by the “police of thought and speech” found in the pseudo-sceptics and
debunkers of various kinds. In a way, it is as if there are also powerful
anti-psi fields around us, and it is only in rare occasions where the pro-psi field
energy is strong enough to be observable, and only for a short time.
In this vein, Kennedy
notes that “Bierman (2001) suggested that the number of people becoming aware
of and potentially influencing psi experiments increases as experiments are
repeated. Presumably, the background opposition to psi has an increasing role
with replication, while the motivation and novelty for the experimenters may
decline. The evidence that psi effects abruptly drop after meta-analyses
(Houtkooper, 1994, 2002) is particularly relevant” and that “If these ideas are
correct, the optimum conditions for psi results would be for one person or a
few people with psi ability to carry out self-tests with the firm constraint
that no one else will ever learn of any positive outcomes. This is consistent
with the strategy “go and tell no one” recommended by some proponents of psi
(e.g., Sinetar, 2000)” (2003, 66).
Finally, and as
discussed in Illuminations, others
like von Lucadou proposed that psi is something akin to quantum fields, where
the very fact that human consciousness is assessing if something exists in a
field makes it definite (there are no more in a state of statistical flux). It
is known as collapsing a quantum field by measurement. Psi is something that
can only happen if the various systems at play, especially the mind of the
people involved, are in a state of non-determinacy. As soon as they look carefully
for psi, their quantum-like psi field collapses, and there are no more effect
possible. For an accessible and detailed discussion of this idea, I suggest
Chris Carter’s recent book Science and
explanations are in many ways complementary to each other. The flux of the unconscious
mind, the omnipresent anti-psi pressures, and the collapse of quantum-like fields
can accommodate each other into a wider explanation.
When one think of the UFO
phenomenon, having in view the general elusiveness of the phenomenon, the OZ
factor (common altered state of consciousness among experiencers), the active
but unconscious role of the ETH ufologists in keeping the topic firmly within
the realm of the ridicule and in a near hysterical conspiratorial neurosis, and
the unavailability of producing convincing physical evidence, in spite of
having very credible experiencers, the parallel with the challenges regarding the
elusiveness of psi in parapsychology is striking.
James, W. (1960). The
final impressions of a psychical researcher. In G. Murphy & R. D. Ballou
(Eds.), William James on psychical research (pp. 309–325). New York: Viking.
J.E. (2003). “The capricious,
actively evasive, unsustainable nature of psi: A summary and hypotheses”. Journal of Parapsychology 67: 53–74.
Rhine, J. B. (1946).
The source of difficulties in parapsychology. Journal of Parapsychology10: 162–168.