Friday, November 21, 2008

Reading Notes on Budden’s Electric UFOs

As discussed in a previous post, I planned to read Albert Budden’s Electric UFOs: Fireballs, electromagnetics and abnormal states (London: Blandford, 1998), and I just finished it. It is an interesting read, but the author does not deliver what he promises. He promises a unified theory that explains not only UFO sightings, but also alien sightings, ESPs, poltergeists and pretty much any other paranormal phenomena. In a nut shell, for Budden UFOs are various types highly magnetized balls of lights. Sightings of aliens, ghosts, and the like are magnetically induced hallucinations. ESPs are weak electrical signals that only the brain can capture, and poltergeists are brain-induced electro-magnetic effects. Given the grandiose tone of Budden’s book, a few remarks are needed before looking into what he can bring to the study of UFOs.

No unified theory and a lot of reductionism

Some of the fundamental assumptions of this book are, in my opinion, quite problematic. The author tries to situate his work within the greater context of UFO studies. He rejects the ETH, as there is no physical evidence to support it. Because the ETH is essentially a materialistic hypothesis, and its failure to deliver any physical evidence about extra-terrestrial presence disqualifies it. So far so good. He also rejects the so-called psychosocial hypothesis (PSH) that he defines as an:

“... approach which maintains that there are no physical stimuli behind unidentified flying objects (UFOs), alien-abduction experiences, hauntings, poltergeists, etc., but that such phenomena are created and maintained by belief systems, urban myth, rumour, group cohesion and other social constructs.” (p. 15)

He further states that: “I read sociology at university and am aware that, while these unusual consciousness effects generate sociological implications, because they involve human groups, they are not sociological in themselves, but bioelectromagnetic in nature” (p.16).

Lastly, he also mentions at a later point that he rejects approaches that are reductionist.

If I agree with him about his criticism of the PSH, because it does not take into consideration physical evidences, I must say that he is completely wrong in rejecting the existence of social constructs. As von Lucadou has shown through empirical research on RSPKs, the social environment is critical to understand what is happening. Another criticism that can be leveraged against Budden is his incapacity to explain how several individuals exposed to same electromagnetically event would have the same hallucination. In this regard, it is interesting to note that all the examples he gives in the annexes of his book are ones of single individual experiences.

As each individual has its own unique life story, images and fantasies, a high intensity electromagnetic field (EMF) would cause as many different forms of hallucinations. Without calling to his rescue some elements of psychosocial dynamics, it is impossible for Budden to stop his analysis at the physical level. Following Jacques Vallée’s work of UFO sightings, we know that the content of sightings/hallucination is culturally and era specific (e.g., the gray abduction scenario was particular to North America for quite a while; dwarfs and elves were seen in the past, aliens are seen nowadays, etc). His rejection of reductionism is very ironic, as his own approach is essentially reductionist!

No mention of parapsychology, psi or Einstein’s physics

Another problem is his statement that his approach is interdisciplinary (pp. 29-30), and that the epistemological gaps between disciplines must be bridged if one wants to understand the UFO phenomenon. In fact, the only sciences he really cares about are the physical and medical ones. Yet, his book is also about hallucinations and altered states of consciousness, which are neither in the domain of physics and biological/medical sciences. His research object requires that he bridges the real epistemological gap in science: the one dividing the natural and human sciences without reducing one to the other. Thus, in spite of putting a lot of emphasis on consciousness, he completely ignores psychology, and noetic sciences.

His failure to be truly interdisciplinary is even greater, as he claims to be able to explain all paranormal phenomena without mentioning a single word about research in parapsychology. Budden writes about psychic research and of “other ghost hunters” in a very critical way. But he does not seem to know that psychic research and parapsychology are quite different and that they are built on different assumptions. Scientific parapsychology actually tries to bridge the gap between physical and human sciences, and involves the work of people who understand how human consciousness works (psychological training of parapsychologists).

As well, his ignorance of the research in parapsychology brings him to a second failure when it is time to deal with the content of hallucinations. Psychosocial dynamics certainly provides the basic material for people to have similar hallucinations, but it cannot explain how people can have the same hallucination. A third component needs to be introduced, and this is the notion of psi, understood as correlating information non-locally. If he is not aware of their work, then his research skill should be questioned. If he purposefully ignored parapsychology, then his work should be considered as extremely biased.

My last criticism is about the very Newtonian approach he takes when discussing electromagnetism. Physicists and parapsychologists have shown that to understand psi effects, one really needs Einstein physics, and not so much Newton’s. Budden never envisions the possibility that some of his analyses would benefit from being reframed into a relativistic and quantum physics framework. As Budden claims that ESP are simply electrical signals received by people who are sensitive to EMF, he does not explain how the signal is coded and then decoded. The use of EMF to send signal by radio, TV, and other communication devices is only the physical support for the signal, but it is not its content. As well, as parapsychologists have found, psi does not seem to respect time barriers (observed by people acquiring knowledge of the future and of the past), and it does not respect distance (like in the case of remote viewing). An electrical signal, like any field in Newtonian physics, exists in a linear timeline and decreases by the square of the distance (e.g., a field with 16 units energy at distance of 2, will only have only 4 units of energy at a distance of 4). In Budden’s theory, premonition is impossible and long distance telepathy would be very unlikely. Yet, empirical research shows otherwise. The concept of non-locality, once more, explains much better paranormal phenomena than speculating about a weak electrical signal that would be captured by the human brain. Again, if he had read scientific parapsychology, he would know better.

In the end, one has to understand Budden’s approach as being materialistic and reductionist, in way similar to the work done by people involved in the ETH. However, I think Budden has still touched upon a number interesting point.

Useful and Interesting Points

Budden considers that UFOs and other paranormal phenomena are caused by either natural or man-made electromagnetic effects. With respect to UFOs, it is certainly coherent with what is known about the physical reality of UFOs. As well, with the work of researchers like Michael Persinger it is known that electromagnetic fields (EMF) can induce hallucinations. What Budden adds is that some people are more sensitive to EMF than others, and that they are more susceptible to have paranormal experiences. He also contributes to the discussion by identifying that some people become more sensitive to EMF by being exposed to EMF for prolonged periods (e.g., living nearby power lines, telecom towers, radio amateurs stations, etc).

Budden goes a bit further and states that people who have dissociative personalities plus sensitivity to EMF are the most likely to have paranormal experiences. Here I would add an important nuance to avoid espousing not only a reductionist approach, but also stereotyping people. Research in parapsychology tends to show it is rather people who have a lower threshold to connect with their unconscious mind that are more susceptible to experience psi effect. This includes people with dissociative personalities (which is considered as being a pathology), but also artistic, creative, and intuitive people who have no pathology at all. As well, it includes people who follow spiritual paths that can be described as “mystical” (e.g., Sufism, Shamanism, cloistered contemplative Catholic nuns, etc.).

This is an interesting idea, and this offers criteria to look into individuals who have UFO/alien experiences, but it is not sufficient to study UFO waves. Given the extended nature of some UFO waves and the wide array of people involved, it is unlikely that such criteria would provide useful explanations about waves. However, it may be useful to explain why some people would have more intense experiences than others during a wave.

The greatest contribution from Budden remains where his assumptions lies: the physical dimension of UFOs. Budden provides a detailed chapter on how balls of light and earth lights are created, whether naturally and through what he calls electromagnetic pollution. He uses the work of several authors, including the work done by the Hessdalen Project in Norway. He provides a technical analysis as to how these balls of plasma are created and concludes that three conditions are necessary to create fireballs: “1. Generate a lot of carbon or vaporized metal particles in a small region of space; 2. Create large electric fields in the same vicinity; 3. Rapidly elevate the temperature of the particles.”(p. 184).

These balls of light have different properties depending on the quantity of matter or energy involved during their creation (some will be short lived, a few seconds, others can last for hours; some will be very hot while others will be less hot; some will be highly charged electromagnetically while others will be less, etc.). The source of energy producing the EMF can be natural (e.g., geological fault) or man-made when different radio frequencies intersect at the same point. Lastly, these balls of light can be created in laboratory, and he quotes abundantly the Canadian John Hutchison. This offers some criteria to evaluate if such conditions exist in a sustained way so that it can produce a UFO wave.

Another potential contribution, but it remains implicit in his book, is a new explanation for the 90 degree turns observed in several UFO sightings, which on the surface appears to violate the laws of physics. But if UFOs are highly magnetically charged balls of plasma, and that they are created in part by radio waves at different frequencies but intersecting at the same point, then may be radio emissions can serve as temporary “rail road” for the UFOs. Some of the most common radio emissions are called square waves, very useful to send the binary signal at the heart of digital encoding. Hence, maybe those 90 degree turns are to be understood as some sort of short-lived and grand scale spectrometer “display.”

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reading Notes - various

I read an interesting book by Greg Bishop. (2005) Project Beta : The story of Paul Bennewitz, national security, and the creation of a modern UFO myth. New York: Paraview. If people still have a few hopes that maybe Roswell and the Majestic documents could be true, they will completely abandon the Roswell/Majestic conspiracy bandwagon after reading this book.

Believing as part of an objective phenomenon

Greg Bishop, in a journalistic type of book, tells the story of Paul Bennewitz who was victim of an influence operation by the US Air Force counter- intelligence in the early 1980s. Bennewitz unknowingly was getting too close to classified military research. Yet, even before the US Air Force got involved, he was convinced that he was tapping into alien signals used to exert mind control over humanity. In reality, he simply recorded signals from a research centre working on various projects in the context of the late Cold War. In a patriotic way, he approached the Air Force with his findings about alien signals, which in turn got the Air Force very worried; but not because of an alleged alien plot, but because there was a potential serious security breach about much more mundane research projects.

As Bennewitz could not be forcibly removed from his house near the base, and the counter-intelligence did not want Soviet agents to use Bennewitz as an involuntary spy, they organized a complex disinformation scheme to distract both Bennewitz and any potential Soviet handlers. The Majestic documents were released in part during this operation, and the story linking UFOs and alien nocturnal visitations was firmly established through the bogus signals sent to Bennewitz. It is also the story of Bill Moore who worked actively with the US Air Force to disseminate false information to the ufology community. Most of that disinformation was easy to uncover, or it was pure rumours without any verifiable references. The ETH ufological community was very much victim of itself by being so uncritical, so ready to believe anything that fits its worldview. For having worked within the defence establishment, and knowing people in the world of intelligence, I must say that Bishop’s book is very credible and plausible.

It is also interesting to note that Bishop, through interviewing the main people involved in that story almost 20 years after the facts, found a few instances where magnetized balls of light were noticed. Apparently, the US Air Force counter-intelligence and other intelligence agencies did not know what to make of these balls of light. Assuming this is not something added to spice up the story (hardly a first in journalist accounts of paranormal-related phenomena), this adds some more data to my project.

What is more interesting is that it tells how a bogus story can become a modern legend. Only one source, one receiver, a few distributors, and a story that feeds into what people are ready to believe, that’s all that is needed. The social dynamics of rumours, as Bishop’s book shows can be very powerful. As psi effects are more likely to occur if people believe in the paranormal in an uncritical way, and that socio-cultural contents tend to provide the basic material for many psi effects, I would say in a qualified way that Jung was right in choosing the title of his famous book: Flying Saucers: A modern myth of things seen in the skies.

The Bennewitz story certainly raises a number of ethical questions. Was all this necessary to protect sensitive military research in the context of the Cold War? Was there other more ethical ways to distract Bennewitz without revealing that top secret research was conducted? This hard to say, as each situation is unique. Certainly if Bennewitz would have been in the Soviet Union doing the same thing, he would have been arrested and sent to psychiatric hospital without explanations. The other question is: was it necessary to disinform the entire ufological community? This one is more problematic. I think that the counter-intelligence agencies were a bit too paranoid about possible infiltration of the ufological community by Soviet agents, and use it as a cover to spy on military research. It is true that Bennewitz with very limited means was able to uncover easily a lot of stuff (even if he did not interpret the information correctly – which a Soviet agent could have done by relaying the information to Moscow). In the end, I think that the counter-intelligence made things worse, as the distrust towards the US Air Force is such that the ufological community was able to get some politicians on the bandwagon, and forcing a few expansive investigations (e.g., GAO search for the Roswell documents, US Air Force own investigation on Roswell, repeated FOI requests).

As one can see, it is not possible to talk about “psychotronic” attempts to manipulate masses here, as Jacques Vallée and others have suggested. These events can be explained by a normal sociological analysis. In fact, if one needs a metaphor to describe this story, I would suggest the Greek tragedy: Bennewitz was victim of his own belief, the ufological community was victim of its own naivety, counter-intelligence agencies were victim of their own paranoia, and the tax payers had to foot the bill once again for little return on the investment.

Psi as the Fifth Dimension

Another interesting book I read recently is Karl Brunstein”s Beyond the Four Dimensions: Reconciling physics, parapsychology and UFOs (New York: Walker and Co., 1979). In spite of the title, however, this book is not really about UFOs. It is more in line with philosophy of science and sociology of science than with paranormal studies.

The author provides a very accessible description of the evolution of Newtonian physics into the Einstein’s physics. From this point of view, it is an excellent vulgarization book. Complex concepts such as non-locality, reversibility of time, relativity can be understood by people having little background in physics and mathematics. Also, the author is not naive and understands that science is a social construct and its evolution is intimately linked to social conditions. This is quite refreshing, as it comes from a physicist.

His book, therefore, is really an attempt to establish linkages between Einstein’s physics and parapsychology that is both cognizant of existing knowledge in both realms and of the social conditions necessary to make such a linkage. His main thesis is that psi effects are the observable, but extreme, outcome of the fifth dimension. What he proposes is essentially an analogy between physical sciences and parapsychology. In the normal physical world, we live in the four dimensions (the 3 physical plus time) of the Newtonian physics. But when we go to the extremes, the ultra small (e.g., sub-atomic particles, photons) or the ultra big (e.g., stars, black holes), then we need Einstein’s physics to explain the strange things happening. The analogy, then, would be that in the normal world of human affairs, regular psychology (and social sciences) are good enough to explain what is happening, but when we reach the extremes, different approaches are needed to explain the strange things happening. Brunstein sees parapsychology fitting such a role. I would add that the collective dimension of human affairs needs to be included, and that parasociology is therefore needed as well.

Brunstein goes a little bit further in stating that human consciousness constitutes the fifth dimension, interacting with the four others, and thus tries to provide an unified understanding of the universe. In the normal world, human consciousness interacts with the physical world by the application of human intent to the physical world (or to other human beings through the physical world – speaking is sound vibrations, gesture and writing are photons in movement, touch is physical force and electrical signals along the nerves, reproduction is bio-chemical reactions, etc), and this can be described by Newton’s physics, Jung/Freund’s psychology, Durkheim/Marx (and many others)’s sociology, etc. It is in the extreme world that we need to better understand how intent interacts with the physical world (and others’ consciousness). Brunstein proposes that psi is what can be measured when there are interactions in the extreme. From that point, he proposes that UFOs are psi “devices” of extra-terrestrial origin used to interact with us.

I am not so sure about UFO as “psi devices,” but he raises an interesting point about the extremes of human consciousness. I would propose that it is, indeed, the unconscious, where psi phenomena seem to originate according to most parapsychologists. The collective dimension of the extreme part of human consciousness would then be what is called the collective unconscious. This in turn provides further justification for a “special” discipline within sociology (or social sciences) to study the collective dimension of psi effects.

Brunstein’s book is very speculative, particularly the second part where he goes beyond scientific vulgarization. But it is an interesting read, and it can certainly provide some food for thought for those espousing the so-called “2nd degree ETH” (ETs are behind the phenomena but it is essentially a psi technology). I do not agree with the 2nd degree ETH, but it is in my view a step forward compared to the standard ETH.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Friday, November 7, 2008

Reading Notes on Roll’s The Poltergeist

One of the classic parapsychology books on poltergeists (or RSPK) is Roll, William G. (2004) The Poltergeist. New York: Paraview (originally published in 1972). Roll investigated personally a number of RSPK, as well as analyzed several cases provided by others. He came to propose a number of tentative conclusions about RSPK.

Field Energy?

Roll proposed that RSPK could be have the form of psi field, and that the actual distance between the central person and the moving objects matters. There was an outer limit of about 40 feet where there was not RSPK noticed, while the majority of them were within 10 feet from the central person. When he looked at the famous 1967 case of Julio the warehouse worker, he also noticed that objects were moving faster when they were away from the central person, implying the psi field seems to work as a vortex (speed being faster as it is further away from the centre). This idea is interesting, although it is based on only a few cases. However, this could be an additional argument about the importance of geography in the case of UFO wave. This idea can also be linked to some research on UFO waves conducted by Ahmad Jamaludin. He found that UFO waves are following a double circle pattern, a small one around Europe, and a wider one encompassing Earth's continental masses with the center being either in Africa or in the Indian Ocean (i.e., the circle is not in the Pacific Ocean itself, although it can touch some parts of it). It is an interesting theory, although he did not take into consideration the 1973 wave in the US Midwest, as it does not fit the pattern. If one combines uncritically Roll’s finding about poltergeists psi field and Jamaludin’s one about UFO wave, it would be tempting to say that the central person is somewhere in Northern Europe...

Personality that suppresses feelings of agression

Another idea proposed by Roll, is the common psychological features that central persons share in RSPK. He quotes a psychiatrist who observed Julio, warehouse worker as: “the most notable are the many examples of aggressive feelings and impulses which are disturbing and unacceptable to him. He prevents the direct expression of these feelings. Indeed, he not only controls the expression of aggressive impulses which at base could be sadistic and quite destructive, but he also feels it necessary to even control impulses of a more assertive, as distinct from aggressive nature. [...] There is little self-understanding in relation to these feelings and there may very likely be a sense of personal detachment from them. Since they cannot be expressed or acted upon in any direct way, they are a source of difficulty to him. The feelings themselves remain internal and diffuse.” (pp. 171-172).

I found, in a completely unrelated source, something similar about the collective unconscious, peace and war in: Senghaas-Knobloch, Eva and Birgit Volmerg. (1988). “Towards a Social Psychology of Peace.” Journal of Peace Research 25(3): 245-256. The authors propose an analysis of the nuclear arms race during the Cold War and maintain that their “findings support the thesis that suppressed subjectivity feeds a collective unconscious process of seeking compensation in the realm of national armament and security policy” (p. 245). In other words, the nuclear arms race is an outcome of an unconscious collective identity that shows pathological signs. These signs include the incomprehensibility of the arms race as the superpowers had enough bombs to destroy humanity several time over while feeling completely powerless about it. There was a profound disconnect between the feelings and the capacity to express them. Another theme they found was the over-rationalized role of people in charge of the nuclear arms race, who in a way were suppressing the rivalry if not animosity towards their enemy by being “rational”. The collective unconscious as describe by these two authors reminds me a lot of Julio’s mental state of ongoing repressed feelings of aggressivity combined with a poor awareness of his own feelings. This can be one more argument in favour of using the collective unconscious to study UFO waves as a social psi effect (rather focussing on individual psi effects).

Neutralizing the consciousness

The last key finding from Roll I want to emphasize is that RSPK tend to occur while the central person is actually busy. It is as if the unconscious processes behind the psi effect are “freed” from the control of the consciousness, i.e., when the latter cannot restraint the unconscious. It is a bit counter-intuitive as most other psi effects like telepathy tend to occur more easily when the consciousness is “neutralized” by being in an altered state of consciousness. I guess poltergeist are actually the outcome of a long unconscious build up of frustration and alienation, and where such build up could only be possible by the active action of one’s consciousness to prevent the unconscious conflict to surface. The poltergeist is therefore construed as a spill over of unconscious processes that the consciousness can no longer hold back. In such case, being busy with mundane tasks is what “neutralizes” the consciousness.

This can be an argument in favour of having some other events that keep the attention away from the real issue, in the case of a UFO wave. In the case of the Bucks County wave, the financial and economic crisis could certainly constitute an effective diversion from other problems. Similarly, the 1973 UFO wave in the US Midwest had its peak in October, which coincided with the Yom Kippur war in the Middle East. This war worried many that it could ignite a conflict between the two superpowers. Again, the diversion would be effective in such a case.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet