Tuesday, October 21, 2008

UFO Waves and Collective Unconscious

As discussed in several previous posts, one of the keys to link parapsychology to sociology is the concept of collective unconscious. It is a key because the genesis of psi effects is in the unconscious mind, according to parapsychologists. The question is therefore: is there an equivalent at the collective level? Two of the founders of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, developed a number of ideas about what they call the collective unconscious. Their respective views are very much in line with how then regard the individual unconscious.

Freud and the dark side of the unconscious

For Freud, the unconscious is the place where all the frustrations are stored as an individual learns to live within the rules of his/her society. The unconscious is not a nice place. At the collective level, if one follows Freud, the collective unconscious is where bad stuff emerges. The rise of Nazi Germany was oftentimes interpreted as this irrational projection of collective frustrations towards others. I my opinion Freud holds the key on the scary part of paranormal events. More on this later. For a quick overview of Freud’s ideas on the issue of collective unconscious please refer to this exhibit website.

Jung, non-locality, and synchronicity

Carl Jung, on the other hand, had a broader understanding of the unconscious. For him, everything that was not in the domain of the conscious was in the unconscious, good and bad. Jung, however, was also very interested in studying paranormal phenomena, and he was the first to see a link between the unconscious mind and the psi effects (although he did not used the word psi). For him, the existence of paranormal events had to be explained by something greater than simply individual’s unconscious mind. It is in this context that he developed the idea of the collective unconscious where individual minds are connected to one another. This connection was done through fundamental archetypes (symbolized thought-forms) that are supposedly hard wired in the human brain. This idea of universally shared archetypes (and he did extensive research to find them in Eastern and Western esoterica) was also coupled with research in quantum physics and the idea of non-locality (in quantum physics it is accepted that related simultaneous events can occur without having a cause-and-effect to explain them), through his work with physicist Wolfgang Pauli. In this context, Jung saw the possibility to have meaning full conjunctions of events that have no direct cause-and-effect, which he called synchronicity. For him, synchronicity could provide an explanation for telepathy, but also for clairvoyance and premonition. For Jung, the unconscious mind is to be understood within the realm of emotions, which do not know time limitations (i.e., a feeling is something that remains in spite of time – people forget, or redefine experiences, but feelings do not change when they are brought back to consciousness – anyone who had a traumatic experience can confirm that). The possibility that also feelings transcend materiality was proposed by Jung to explain psychokinetic effects as well. Following the same logic, for Jung hauntings were therefore synchronistic events where subjective elements are mixed with objective effects out of the unconscious. In other words, when there are too many synchronistic events, which source can be either natural or psi-related (like the wind opening a door, while there is an electrical short-circuits), they constitute a larger meaningful event without having internal direct cause-and-effect relationships. For Jung, it is what we call haunting, but it does not imply the involvement of non-human entities.

The best source on this is: Main, Roderick. (1997). Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jung and UFOs

Given Jung’s interest in the paranormal, it is no surprise that he also wrote about UFOs. This can be found in his famous book: Flying Saucers: A modern myth of things seen in the sky. Jung remained faithful to his approach and saw in UFOs an archetypical symbol that was made more modern through a “rumour” alleging that UFOs might be spaceships. He did not exclude the possibility that UFOs could be a collective hallucination that had a degree of objectivity through some sort psi process (very much in the same way he understood hauntings). However, he was more at pain to explain the physical dimension of the phenomena. Jung wrote in Flying Saucers (1978 edition) that an

“[...] alternative hypothesis [to anti-gravity] that Ufos are something psychic that is endow with certain physical properties seems less probable, for where should such a thing come from? If weightlessness is a hard proposition to swallow, then the notion of a materialized psychism opens a bottomless void under our feet. Parapsychology is, of course, acquainted with the fact of materialization. But this phenomenon depends on the presence of one or more mediums who exude a weighable substance, and it occur only in their immediate vicinity. The psyche can move the body, but only inside the living organism. That something psychic, possessing material qualities and with a high charge of energy, could appear by itself high in the air at a great distance from any human mediums—this surpasses our comprehension.” (p. 110).

I think Jung was on the right track for the most part, but given the way he construed the collective unconscious he could not think beyond the level ofthe individual (clearly seen here by focussing on individual mediums). Jung was a psychologist and it is no surprise that he focussed on the individual. His construction of the collective is reductionist as it brings back the entire concept to the individual. What is needed here is to rethink the collective unconscious as a collective level or sociological concept, without being reductionist.

A sociological understanding of the collective unconscious

Jung was criticized also for reducing to an almost biological level the content of archetypes. The notion that somehow specific content is hard wired in the human brain remains to be proven, and as far as we understand human behaviour, biological reductionism does not hold water very well. I think that it is possible to develop an understanding of somewhat predictable patterns for the unconscious (I would not use scientific law here as it is too strong), while what is populating the unconscious could be kept open and dynamic.

One of the first steps to conceptualize the collective unconscious in a sociological way is to go back to the roots of the concept. For this, I use an interesting article, where one can find the sources of what I discuss below. Greenwood, Susan F. (1990). “Émile Durkheim and C.G. Jung: Structuring a transpersonal sociology of religion.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29(4): 482-495.

Interestingly, Jung’s collective unconscious and the founder of sociology’s (Durkheim) concept of collective consciousness have actually the same origin. For instance, Durkheim used the concept of collective representations to investigate the content of collective consciousness. He borrowed this concept from the French anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857-1939). Jung acknowledged that his concept of archetype and Lévy-Bruhl’s concept of collective representation are the same thing. This means that conceptually collective representations are pathways for both the collective consciousness and unconscious. This was implicitly noted by many sociologists, as Durkheim’s concept of collective consciousness, when used in its French original version “conscience collective” creates an ambiguity that he found useful. The word “conscience” in French can mean either consciousness or conscience in English. As Durkheim voluntarily kept the idea of conscience as part of his concept, this leaves the door open to the possibility of an unconscious collective mind as well.

From Greenwood’s article (p. 488), here is some explanation about both concepts:

While for Jung, (p. 489),

Another quote shows how much Durkheim and Jung have in common. But I would to highlight that a sociological unconscious, as Durkheim noted, is a “partially autonomous reality” that is feeds through a “multitude of minds.”

Hence, if we give a Durkheimian turn to Jung’s concept, then collective representations and symbols that open the doors to the collective unconscious may have a long duration across generations, but they do not have to be hard wired through an archetypical approach. The second point is that Durkheim provides a truly sociological perspective in considering the collective unconscious as autonomous from the individuals, and thus avoids reductionism.

All this does not prove anything about the paranormal and UFO waves, but it shows that at least an autonomous and social dynamic collective unconscious is thinkable and has some basis in sociological theory.

To go back to Jung and UFOs, then it is thinkable that a large group act unknowingly as a medium, and could produce psi effect like materialization at a certain distance. The distance might remain somewhat of a limiting factor, and this may explain the existence of UFO waves, which are by definition localized. Furthermore, the psi-effect might have a degree of autonomy from individuals as it is the outcome of a multitude of minds unconsciously feeling at the same time. UFO waves are also known to move away from the original epicentre (it moved from West to East during the Airship wave of 1896-97, it moved also West to East during the 1954 French wave).

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

1 comment:

TLC said...

I think you're onto something here. I've studied UFOs for over 15 years and I've come to the same conclusion (subject to change of course) that UFOs, paranormal type events, etc.. are partially the work of the unconscious mind. Like in dreams, the unconscious mind attempts to warn us, work out problems, and present to us a reality that is abstract. Understanding the messages is not always easy.

I like Vallee's idea about approaching the phenomenon as a computer programmer, not knowing the internal workings (what makes it tick), but learning to input data, so to speak, so the system responds and then capturing feedback. I'm a Software Test Analyst by trade, so I kind of take a different approach. I don't want to program the "agent" behind the phenomenon. I want to find the relevant fields where data can be entered and then test those fields. Enter the right data and you get a response. Analyse that response in hopes of figuring out the next step. If you enter invalid data you'll get garbage ("garbage in, garbage out").

After contemplating this idea, that the unconscious processes of the brain are partially behind UFO projections, I think it is possible to engage it directly. However, I do agree with Vallee that by doing so is risky, because we aren't always in control of how it will react. Like dreams, the phenomenon kind of has a mind of it's own. We don't control dreams and sometimes we get nightmares.

Thanks for the information!