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

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