Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reading Notes – Psi in the Sky

This post is reviewing some of the ideas found in Keith Partain’s Psi in the Sky. This book had a promising title, but I am a quite disappointed. The notion of psi is studied in an interesting way, but it is applied in framework where UFOs represent manifestations of non-human entity than does not add up. The full notice is:

Partain, Keith L. (2001). Psi in the Sky: A new approach to UFO and psi phenomena. Philadelphia: Xlibris.

The biology of psi

Partain is a biologist by training, and it is interesting to see someone trying to understand what could the biological basis of psi phenomena. He is using biology jargon throughout his book, and makes no apology about it in order to preserve the scientific quality of his analysis. Unfortunately, his arguments are based on speculations. To start with, he takes one theory in biology that implies that humans evolved from swimming monkeys. These monkeys were eventually separated from mainly Africa and lived on an ancient island that was located where the present-day Arabian Peninsula and Red Sea are. In order to survive, those monkeys became fish catchers and developed special means to catch and detect fishes while being under water. These special means became linked to the development of psi abilities. The problem is that the theory of the “swimming monkeys” as the famous missing link is speculative at best, as there is no serious evidence to support it.

Then, he links the psi capacities on the development of the pineal gland, and he considers that the notion of “third eye” found in a number of Asian mystical traditions is actually the pineal gland. The pineal gland, in turn, is activated by different biological mechanisms, some of which are clearly linked to magical practices found in many cultures. In particular, the gland is activated by breathing exercises similar to what people do when they dive in water for longer time periods (and this is how he links the swimming monkeys to the development of psi capabilities). These breathing exercises are also found in various forms of meditation techniques (including the Tibetan tradition discussed in the previous post). As well, the gland is also activated by melatonin, which is produced by the brain when there is ambient darkness. Dime light is often a key prerequisite for many psychics, and it was an important enabler in the age of psychic research in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Once again, it is an interesting theory that can be linked to other notions, but the empirical evidence is not there. Hence, science cannot be leveraged here.

Linkages with parapsychology are also difficult to make if one takes this biological approach. For instance, it is known that psi events occur in broad daylight and when people are not in any form of meditative or altered state of consciousness. RSPKs, UFOs, and hauntings can be cited here. To have a theory with at least some internal validity would require showing that the pineal gland is activated in these occasions too. But how can one do that in these relatively rare and spontaneous events? In a nut shell, it is not testable.

On the other hand, his speculations about the pineal glad have the merit to move away from the electromagnetic theory of psi. Psi is not a form of electromagnetic wave, although Partain recognizes that EMFs have an impact on the brain, and therefore they could be in some circumstances an important enabler. This is in line with what is known about psi.

The physics of psi

In a way similar to his discussion about the biology of psi, Partain uses speculations from modern physics to build his cases, and uses extensive jargon. He is attacking the Standard Model in physics that emerged from Einstein’s physics, and focuses on some theories in quantum physics such as the “quantum void”, and the “zero point energy”. These theories can provide an explanation for the energy required to do various forms of PK, which can be in turn linked to some parts of the neurological system that could, in theory, produce these quantum effects. Unfortunately, these theories remain to be empirically validated. The validation of such theories is very problematic as it requires a recreation of the physical conditions found in a black hole, which presents very serious practical challenges. Even the new research accelerator at the French-Swiss border, which was at the centre of a controversy a few months ago, will only able to tackle a very small portion of those theories by creating mini and very short-lived black holes. The bottom line is that these theories are beyond proof and disproof.

Partain’s focus on biological and quantum speculations also poses a series of problem as they require an active agent. In other words, he cannot explain persistent phenomena that acquire a life of their own, like the ones discussed in the previous post about tulpas and haunting. This explains why he prefers to attribute these persistent phenomena to non-human entities. This how he developed the idea that UFOs and aliens are psi phenomena, but produced by non-human entities. The author, hence, has the same ontological assumptions found in the writings of Vallée, Keel and Brunstein, which are commonly called the Paranormal Hypothesis (PNH). Once again, any research on non-human entities leads, by definition, to a similar problem than the one found in his esoteric biological and quantum physics speculations; there is no way to prove or disprove such reality because their deep inner dynamics is beyond our reach. Ironically, in taking such a materialistic and allegedly scientific approach to psi, he ends up producing a theory that is essentially animist and non-scientific.

No social sciences here

Partain, in spite of trying to be conciliatory about research on psi (i.e., people should try to work together instead of fighting each others), is quite parochial in his own approach. As discussed above, he used jargon extensively and he stated in several instances that he is a trained natural scientist. It is clearly one of those well-known forms of rhetorical strategy to give one’s words more value, which in turn may be useful to mask that his approach is entirely based on speculations. After all, it was not terribly reasonable to expect that experts in biology and physics would be interested to read such a book and engage in a debate with him. The, what would be the purpose to write in such a way? It is also interesting to note that in many occasions he states that we need to have a “high resolution” approach to study the phenomenon if we want to understand it (hence, another justification for his use of jargon). High resolution meaning here that the analysis needs to be at the expert level using as much detailed empirical data as possible. Unfortunately, he does not apply the same standard when it comes to the social sciences.

According to him, those psi-using ETs are supposedly guiding the evolution of humanity, and he gives the example of psi events (perceived as religious) that changed the course of humanity. One of them is the story of Ezekiel who created the notion of a Jewish nation. Well, this conclusion can only be reached if one uses a “low resolution” approach which essentially confuses causes and effects. Psi phenomena, like in the case of individuals, are rather a symptom of profound social tensions. In liminal situations (i.e., between two forms of social order, the old and the new one to come), societies are more amenable to change and this is when new collective identities are formed. That a major psi effect has a profound religious or spiritual impact is no proof that there is non-human intervention. It is only an indicator that a society was ripe for change. A well-known example is the rise of fascism in Germany during the interwar period propelled by the Great Depression. The tragic events that followed are also too well known, but they eventually led to the victory of social liberal and democratic values in Germany. In many ways, this period was a liminal one for Germany where drastic shifts in the collective identity occurred. Does one need ETs to explain what happened? No. So, there is no reason to involve non-falsifiable ET theories about social change in ancient and pre-modern societies either. In taking a higher resolution approach that looks at the economic, social, demographic, and political conditions of a society one can see how social change occurs. These dynamics are pretty consistent across history.

It is unfortunate that this book, which had an interesting idea to start with (“psi in the sky”), is more a sophisticated form of von Daniken-type of speculations. This, in turn, reinforces the notion that the study of paranormal phenomena needs badly the involvement of the social sciences. It is certainly the role given to parasociology to fill such a gap.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reading Notes – Magic and Mystery in Tibet

In this post I present a review of Alexandra David-Néel’s book Magic and Mystery in Tibet focussing on her description of tulpas. This book was originally written in French and published in 1929. The first English translation was published in 1931. It is in this book that the notion of “tulpa” was brought into the Western world. Several more recent authors have alluded to the possibility that UFOs, aliens, and Men in Black are tulpas. Unfortunately, their allusions are almost always just that, allusions; and in many occasions without even giving the original source. So, I decided to see for myself what it is all about.

The full notice is: David-Néel, Alexandra. (1973) [1929]. Magic and Mystery in Tibet. Baltimore: Penguin.

The author

Alexandra David-Néel was a French explorer, linguist and both an expert and a practitioner of Buddhism. She studied in France at the Sorbonne Tibetan languages and Asian religions and philosophies, as well as Sanskrit. She spent 14 years in Tibet and India, where she studied in depth Buddhism and Tibetan culture. Her work was recognized by the Geographical Society of Paris, and she received the French Légion d’honneur. She died in 1969.

Tibetan philosophy

In her 1965 preface, a few years before her death, she sums up quite well the essence of Tibetan Buddhism: “All of these seekers after miracles would perhaps be most surprised to hear me say that the Tibetans do not believe in miracles, that is to say, in supernatural happenings. They consider the extraordinary facts which astonish us to be the work of natural energies which come into action in exceptional circumstances, or through the skill of someone who knows how to release them, or sometimes, through the agency of an individual who unknowingly contains within himself the elements apt to move certain material or mental mechanisms which produce extraordinary phenomena.” (pp. vii-viii). One can readily see the striking similarities between the Tibetans’ worldview and modern parapsychology.

Furthermore, one of the emerging issues in parapsychology is that the notion that psi becomes what we believe (at the deep unconscious level). David-Néel also states that “The Tibetans also tend to believe that everything which one imagines can be realized. They claim that if the imagined facts corresponded to no external reality, one could not conceive of their images”. (p. vii). In other words, the imaginary and reality are two faces of the same coin. This, too, is congruent with the phenomenological approach, as discussed in previous posts. There is, however, one substantial difference with modern parapsychology. Contrary to mainstream parapsychology, for the Tibetan “it is possible for these individuals [practicing magic] to obtain, in certain cases, the aid of beings whose nature is other than human” (p. vii). For David-Néel, this notion of intervening non-human entities is not different than the belief in prayer and offerings to saint patrons, commonly found in Western countries. More on this below.

Tulpa, Tibetan tradition, parapsychology and UFOs

Although her book has 320 pages, the notion of tulpa is only discussed in about half a dozen pages. Here is what she wrote about tulpas, quoting a sacred Tibetan text: “by the power generated in a state of perfect concentration of mind he[who attained the high degree of spiritual perfection] may, at one and the same time, show a phantom (tulpa) of himself in thousands millions of worlds. He may create not only human forms, but any forms he chooses, even of inanimated objects such as hills, enclosures, houses, forests, roads, bridges, etc. He may produce atmospheric phenomena as well as the thirst-quenching beverage of immortality”. (p. 121). As one can see, considering UFOs and “aliens” as tulpas would not be in contradiction with the Tibetan tradition, as other large manufactured objects (e.g. roads and bridges) and atmospheric phenomena are included in the definition.

An important nuance she adds is that “the power of producing magic formations, tulkus or less lasting and materialized tulpas, does not, however, belong exclusively to such mystic exalted beings. Any human, divine or demoniac being may be possessed of it. The only difference comes from the degree of power, and this depends on the strength of the concentration and the quality of the mind itself.” (p. 121). Clearly, the intensity of the phenomenon, according to her understanding of the Tibetan tradition, is variable but linked to the intensity of the source. If UFOs are tulpas occurring in non-Buddhist societies, then maybe it is not highly trained individuals producing them, but many untrained ones sharing the same dream.

In a different section of the book she adds some more details. “Phantoms, as Tibetans describe them, and those that I have myself seen do not resemble the apparitions which are said to occur during spiritualist seances. In Tibet, the witnesses of these phenomena have not been especially invited to endeavour to produce them, or to meet a medium known for producing them. Consequently, their minds are not prepared and intent on seeing apparitions. There is no table upon which the company lay their hands nor any medium in trance, nor a dark closet in which the latter is shut up. Darkness is not required, sun and open air do not keep away the phantoms. [...] in other cases, apparently the author of the phenomenon generates it unconsciously, and is not even in the least aware of the apparition being seen by others (p. 308). Linking this quote about the unexpectedness and the unconscious generation of tulpa with her other comments, it becomes clear that the notion that a UFO could be an outcome of the collective unconscious is not contradicting the Tibetan tradition.

In spite of the belief in non-human entities in Tibet, as stated above, it is interesting to note that for those who mastered meditation techniques to a very high degree, “the creation of a phantom Yidam as we have seen it described in the previous chapter, has two different objects. The higher one consists in teaching the disciples that there are no gods or demons other than those which his mind creates. The second aim, less enlightened, is to provide oneself with a powerful means of protection.” (p. 312). It interesting to see, once again, the parallel with parapsychology which tries to show by experiment that psi is a natural phenomenon, that poltergeists are no spirit but creations of a conflicted unconscious mind. As well, as the remote-viewing programme shows psi can be used for military ends as well (the programme was first developed to see if state secrets of the United States could be stolen by the Soviet psychic programme and how could they be protected).

Tulpa, poltergeists and hauntings

Another interesting comparison can be done with poltergeist phenomena. She wrote that creating tulpas “is fraught with danger for ever one who has not reached a high mental and spiritual degree of enlightenment and is not fully aware of the nature of the psychic forces at work in the process. Once a tulpa is endowed with enough vitality to be capable of playing the part of a real being, it tends to free itself from its maker’s control. [...] Sometimes the phantom becomes a rebellious son and one hears of uncanny struggles that have taken place between magicians and their creatures, the former being severly hurt or even killed by the latter” (p. 313). Poltergeists, although not created voluntarily, can also evolve into something quite violent.

Another interesting component is that according to Tibetan tradition, the tulpa can have a life of its own independent of its creator. This is an interesting issue that helps us to understand how poltergeist on one hand, and hauntings and UFOs on the other hand, could be different expressions of the same dynamics. She wrote that “Tibetan magicians also relate cases in which the tulpa is sent to fulfill a mission, but does not come back and pursues its peregrinations as a half-conscious, dangerously mischievous puppet. The same thing, it is said, may happen when the maker of the tulpa dies before having dissolved it. Yet, as a rule, the phantom either disappears suddenly at the death of the magician or gradually vanishes like a body that perishes for want of food. On the other hand, some tulpas are expressly intended to survive their creator and are specially formed for that purpose. These may be considered as veritable tulkus and, in fact, the demarcation between tulpas and tulkus is far from being clearly drawn. (pp. 313-314). Tulkus, are essentially a superior form of tulpas, with longer lasting life.

Alexandra David-Néel is mostly famous for having created her own tulpa. That story, however extraordinary it may be, constitute only two pages of the entire book. She wrote that she “chose for my experiment a most insignificant character: a monk, short and fat, of an innocent and jolly type. I shut myself in tsams and proceeded to perform the prescribed concentration of thought and other rites. After a few months the phantom monk was formed. His form grew gradually fixed and life-like looking. He became a kind of guest, living in my apartment. I then broke my seclusion and started for a tour, with my servants and tents. The monk included himself in the party. Though I lived in the open, riding on horseback for miles each day, the illusion persisted. I saw the fat trapa, now and then it was not necessary for me to think of him to make him appear. The phantom performed various actions of the kind that are natural to travellers and that I had not commanded.” (p. 314). Here again, a number of parallel with parapsychological research can be made. For instance, poltergeists and hauntings tend to develop gradually to become possibly out of control (Houran & Lange 2001). Poltergeist events occur while the focus person is busy doing or thinking about something else (Roll 2004).

David-Néel had troubles with her tulpa over time. “The features which I had imagined, when building my phantom, gradually underwent a change. The fat chubby-cheeked fellow grew leaner, his face assumed a vaguely mocking, sly, malignant look. He became more troublesome and bold. In brief, he escaped my control. Once a herdsman who brought me a present of butter saw the tulpa in my tent and took it for a live lama. I ought to have let the phenomenon follow its course, but the presence of that unwanted companion began to prove trying to my nerves; it turned into a ‘day-nightmare’ [...] so I decided to dissolve the phantom. I succeeded, but only after six months of hard struggle. My mind-creature was tenacious of life.” (p. 315). It is also interesting to see that poltergeists are best handled by family therapy and/or by psychotherapy (Lucadou & Zahradnik, 2004). Refocusing deep parts of the mind into a more healthy alignment appears to be the common remedy to both the tulpas of Tibetan tradition and the RSPKs of parapsychology.

A last parallel can be found in the interpretation of events. As David-Néel wrote, “the interesting point is that in these cases of materialization, others see the thought-forms that have been created. Tibetans disagree in their explanations of such phenomena; some think a material form is really brought into being, others consider the apparition as a mere case of suggestion, the creator’s thought impressing others and causing them to see what he himself sees.” (p. 315). In parapsychology, there is the same debate about whether macro psi effects such as haunting and UFOs are either PK materialization (e.g., Budden 1995) or hallucinations shared through ESP means (e.g., Schwartz 1983).

Tibetan tradition and parasociology

Although her explanation of what tulpas are is quite short, it is interesting to note the parallels between the Tibetan tradition and the results of research in parapsychology. It is no proof, of course, but the fact that two completely different approaches arrive at very similar conclusions is considered in science as an important indicator of validity.

As well, I find her description useful as it provides some arguments for a key hypothesis that parasociology will have to explore empirically. Parapsychologists tend to consider that whoever observes a psi event should be considered as a “psi subject” (i.e., that they are part of making the phenomenon occurring). This is coming from the individualistic bias of their psychology background. Furthermore, one can think of the parapsychologists who discover a psi effect through a detailed statistical analysis that remained unknown up to that point. Does it make them psi subjects too? Not. This “special status” granted to themselves is coming from their positivist bias, also learned in psychology.

This is issue of psi subject is highly problematic also because in the case of UFOs and hauntings, oftentimes those who observe appear to be more passive than active, if one looks into their life in depth (like Schwartz did) no particular signs can be found of major unconscious conflicts. If they may have some role in the event in being able to perceive it through psi abilities, and in giving it a particular coloration, they do not appear to be the source of it. The Tibetan approach allows for both a separate creator (conscious or unconscious) and observer, while keeping the phenomenon clearly within the realm of human affairs. This is an important point because if the collective unconscious is producing macro psi effects like UFOs, then obviously the observer cannot be the central source of the phenomenon.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reading Notes – Budden’s UFOs Psychic Close Encounters

This post is a review of Albert Budden’s book UFOs Psychic Close Encounters. This book was written prior to Electric UFOs, reviewed in a previous post. It is interesting to note that Budden is somewhat less “aggressive” in this older book. Although he puts electromagnetic effects at the center of the UFO phenomenon, he fully recognizes that there is a psi effect involved in many UFO encounters. He even mentions the concept of PK. It is difficult to know why his tone has changed just a few years later. The full notice is:

Budden, Albert. (1995). UFOs Psychic Close Encounters: The electromagnetic indictment. London: Blandford.

Centrality of electromagnetic effects

The central thesis in this book is very similar to the one he uses in his next book. UFOs, and particularly UFO close encounters, are produced by electromagnetic fields (EMF) that affect the brain. There are numerous possible sources such as natural balls of light, earthlights, telecommunication towers, abnormal geomagnetic fluctuations, etc. His argument is based on researches on electromagnetic sensitivity, particularly the work of Michael Persinger and Anne Silk. The effects of being exposed to high levels of EMF on the human brain and physiology are known. They range from hallucinations, blackout, skin rash and burns, joint pain, to dizziness and altered state of consciousness. In essence, Budden’s argument is that EMF are the material cause of close encounters, but the repertoire of images and notions we have in our mind fills the actual content of the experience. In other words, for Budden UFO close encounters are essentially a form of dream caused by an external, but natural, force. There is no non-human entities involved. To support his thesis, he provides a number of examples drawn from various cases, some of which he investigated himself. From that point of view, Budden’s argument remains the same in his next book. What is different, however, is that he tries to explain why more than one people would have the same “hallucination” and why there are physical traces. These two elements cannot be account for if one only takes into accounts the impact of EMF on the human brain.

PK, poltergeists and UFOs

In this book, Budden considers that the UFO experience can also involve, but not always, a degree of psi effects. On p. 15, he clearly states his thesis: “the unconscious – or more descriptively, the unconscious intelligence (UI) – that utilizes its reality-defying abilities (including psychokinesis, or ‘mind over matter’) to produce the effects of an advanced, magical technology in these ‘stage productions’, its motivating purpose being to establish and maintain an external social identity”. It is interesting to note that indeed, the unconscious being built as one learns how to live in society, social identity is at the core of unconscious processes. This is in line with the notion that people who are poltergeist agents are usually going through an identity crisis (like teenagers and young adults), and at the social level, as noted before, UFO waves seem to occur when the collective identity is challenged. Budden, however, does not make the connection with the collective identity, and the collective unconscious.

For Budden, the UFO experience is a just a particular form of poltergeist (or RSPK). The actual content of these events is different from the UFO ones, but they share the same structure. They involve (1) visionary experiences (aliens displaying magic-like technologies and strange apparitions and blood on the walls in the case of the more intense RSPKs); (2) it can have a contagious effect, but can be experienced by more than one person (involve PK effects) (it can also be construed as some sort of telepathically shared vision); (3) already psi sensitive people are more frequently witnessed of these events (it is something that Rogo and others noticed about UFO sightings, but it is less true for RSPKs. However, it is accurate it the case of hauntings, as some people seem to be more “sensitive” to “ghost” – i.e., they are more able to use unconsciously and unknowingly PK to produce ghost effects); (4) various physical side effects can occur; (5) smaller PK effects can be observed for sometime afterward; (6) physical object or entities can materialize and dematerialize, and existing objects can be assembled to create something meaningful almost instantaneously. On this last one, it has been documented that in the case of RSPKs objects can be assembled in a way that is symbolic. Budden quotes the case of Reverend Phelps in Connecticut where bedding sets were moved and assembled to imitate someone in praying position. For a clergyman, this was obviously very symbolic. In the case of UFOs, Budden does not provide any particular example of objects taken from the immediate environment in order to stage an effect through PK. However, he proposes that like in the case of Men in Black, and many other sightings of “aliens,” many usual earthly objects can be found such as helmets, uniforms, and other equipments that appear “low tech” (like the book, and the rolled map in the Barney and Betty Hill case).

Budden proposes that the main distinction between UFOs and RSPKs is one of interpretation by the witnesses: “one set of witnesses feel that they are encountering spirits of the dead and the other set, alien intelligences. It would seem, then, that when houses or buildings are saturated with ambient electrical fields, poltergeists occur; and when wider areas in the landscape are electromagnetically affected, UFO encounters occur. (p. 76). Once again, Budden offers a number of cases to support his views.

Another key idea is that the phenomenological intensity of RSPKs and UFO encounters is function of three cumulative variables, according to Budden. The first one is the electromagnetic sensitivity of the individuals involved. Some people are more sensitive to EMF, and some are actually extremely sensitive to them. The medical literature actually uses the notion of EMF allergies. The second variable is the intensity of the EMF encountered by the witnesses. The last one could be described as the overall psychic ability, PK in particular, of the individual(s) involved. On this last one, Budden does not provide many details, but certainly the notion that someone who has easier communications between his/her consciousness and unconscious would be an important factor to consider.

Dreams and UFO encounters

Like in the case of RSPKs, there are recurring themes in the UFO encounters that, according to Budden, can be only understood through their symbolic meaning, as they are products of the socialized unconscious mind. For instance, “the tall blond ‘Venusians’; the silver-suited humanoids; the ‘greys’; the robed ‘wise men’; the ‘watchers’; and the hairy dwarf—will be familiar to those in the UFO-study field. Just as we can do the same with dream types: the flying dream; the falling dream; the paranoid or being pursued dream; the wish-fulfilment dream; the erotic dream; the dream where you are being pursued but cannot escape due to paralysis; the anxiety dream; the exposed or nudity-in-public dream and so on. It is clear that entities/encounters and dreams share the same patterns of consistency; both are different but incorporate a range of basic elements in different permutations.“ (p. 70-71).

This is an interesting element, but Budden, however, does not go to the full conclusions of this statement. If UFO encounters are a form of materialized dream, then like dreams they can be interpreted based on the symbolism found in them. If a link can be established between the symbolic content and what’s going on in the interior life of the witnesses, this would certainly reinforce his thesis.

Some comments

This book is in many ways more interesting that his next one, Electric UFOs. Parapsychological research, especially on RSPKs, is integrated in his research. He is not the first one to establish that there are similarities between the two phenomena, but he providers further details as to how they are comparable. As well, his notion of looking at UFO encounters as dream opens the door to a number of interesting and testable hypotheses. But like in Electric UFOs, the role of EMF is given a too prominent role. Although EMF is most likely an important enabler, it is not present in all UFO sightings, and even less in the case of RSPKs. The other problem is that in many cases the witnesses, in spite of extensive psychiatric examination (see Schwartz 1983), do not seem to exhibit any particular psychological signs that are more common in RSPKs (and yet, not always universal in RSPKs).

In the absence of EMF and of particular personality traits, something else needs to introduce in the explanation. In the case of RSPKs, some parapsychologists think that it is the family or work environment dynamics that is problematic, and no individual in particular. Although there might still be a “focus person,” the personality of that individual alone is not sufficient to explain the psychological climate conducive to the production of RSPK effects. Hence, RSPK need to be understood as a collective psi event, and not only an individual one. Then, this brings us to question of UFOs. If RSPK and UFO encounters are just variations of the same dynamics, then there must be UFOs as collective psi event too. Most sightings, however, tend to occur when there is only a few individuals, oftentimes in an isolated area. In such cases, the notion of collective psi (understood as the psi of a small group) does not appear very appropriate. On the other hand, the notion of social psi, especially if there is a UFO wave occurring, appears more interesting. This is especially more interesting knowing that in many UFO waves, there is a symbolic content that can only be understood when the analysis is moved away from the individual level and brought to the sociological one. A clear example of this is the new trend in UFOs in the US and UK where UFO appear to be “organic”.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Review of François Favre’s Psi and Intentionality

This post is a review of a text by François Favre in French, entitled Psi et Intentionalité (Psi and Intentionality), available on his website at:

François Favre is a psychiatrist who wrote about psi and parapsychology since the 1970s. He approaches parapsychological topics from a philosophical point view. What I mean here is that he is asking tough questions about how parapsychology conceptualizes its own field of research, and tries to show the consequences of some serious logical flaws in parapsychological research. Favre, however, goes beyond critique and proposes some answers. In his text, Favre proposes a serious critique of parapsychology, but not the one that people are used to. He does not attempt to deny the existence of psi due to some alleged methodological flaw. Favre has no problem with the existence of psi. His problem, and I agree with him, is that parapsychology has no real definition of what psi is, and thus without having its central concept fully defined it cannot be fully effective in studying it.

Rhine’s terminology at the source of the problem

Without using the word, Favre bases his critique upon the notion of phenomenology. Reality, at first, is what I am feeling and it is what I project my mind into (this is the concept of intentionality from Immanuel Kant). In other words, reality is what I am aware of, and to be aware of something I have to focus on something (i.e., to intentionally projecting my mind on something). This starting point for the study of psi may seem trivial, but it has important consequences for parapsychology.

If psi, as defined by Rhine, is the acquisition of information without any known physical means (ESP), and affecting matter without any known physical means (PK), then psi is simply a “meaningful coincidence”, as Favre underlines in his text. For instance, if I think about a table levitating, and I see a table levitating by itself, then it is a meaningful coincidence without a known cause. For Favre, this way of conceptualizing psi can only lead to a dead end. The underlying dynamics remain unknown, and cannot be known if it is only construed as meaningful coincidences. One can use Zener cards forever, collect tons of statistically significant data, and still not have a clue of what psi is. For Favre, this is a waste of time.

In the same vein, Favre considers that the notion a-causality is also flawed, and this is one of the key issues in parapsychology. Considering these meaningful coincidences as a-causal (i.e., simultaneous but without a direct cause and effect process) like Jung and many parapsychologists would say, is simply compounding the problem. For Favre, psi is instead “anti-causal”. What he means is that the intention of having the table levitating is fully realized in the mind of the individual before it actually occurs, and it is only after that the table “finds a way” to levitate. This is the exact opposite to cause and effect, because the effect comes first (in the mind of the psi agent) and then the cause is found afterward, hence his choice of anti-causal rather than a-causal.

Another point in his critique of the parapsychological definition of psi is that time is not something fixed and imperturbable, but something coming out of the imaginary. What he means is that for us (the humans), from a phenomenological standpoint, time can only be perceived if we have a past, a present and a future. Otherwise, we would be in the eternal present, and therefore we would never notice the passage of time. The past is always gone, by definition, and so we can only imagine it with the help of our memory; the future has not occurred yet and so we can only imagine it, based on what we know; on our experience. Furthermore, the notion of present is also quite problematic, as it is something that lasts just a fraction of a second (as short as the human mind is able to handle it). The implication is that we are always using our imagination to catch up with the present. The present, that fraction of second where we project our mind on something, is guided by our memory of the previous factions of seconds. This same use of imagination of the past is itself projected into imagining the future of what we want to accomplish. In other words, when one takes a phenomenological perspective about time, one can see that our imaginary capabilities are constantly used.

The consequence of this critique is that psi, given that it is anti-causal, it must be construed as an act of imagination, or more properly as an act of creation. Furthermore, as noticing the passage of time requires that the human mind is constantly using its imaginary capabilities, then human beings are constantly creating. From that point of view, therefore, psi has nothing paranormal, because ordinary human life is all about creativity. A mundane action or project is conceived in the mind first, and then we find a way to make it happen, and we constantly use our memory from the past (or experience) to project into the future what we are imagining as the end state of the action or project. Psi, therefore, is no different from any other mental processes. What we call psi effects, then, is something that we can imagine as possible (and truly believe it can be done at the unconscious level). This explains why psi is more common when people believe deeply in magic or the paranormal, and when they are in an altered state of consciousness (because it suspending our normal ways of thinking, and thus more is possible). For Favre, psi is simply a normal act of creation but with an outcome that is rare.

What Favre does not discuss, however, is why psi is rare. Based on my previous posts on the social nature of the human unconscious, it appears clear to me that any belief about what is possible and what is not depends on factors that are sociological in nature. In the so-called primitive societies, magic was not that rare because people were socialized to believe in it. It is rarer in our rationalist societies because we learn from a very young age that these things are not possible. So, psi can be redefined as an act of creation that transgresses Western social conventions. If there is no transgression of social conventions about what is possible and what is not, then it ceased to be construed as psi, and becomes something “normal” or “natural”. This also implies that if social conventions change, then what is psi will change also. An example that Favre gives that can easily be linked to the social dimension of psi is the issue of psychosomatic diseases and healing. Before the 19th century, in the Western world, it was caused by some curse or by miraculous healing. It was a mysterious form psi (to use nowadays terminology). In the 19th century, until quite late in the 20th century, it was a form of pathology (and thus no psi). In the end of the 20th century and early 21st century, the power of the mind over the human body is increasingly recognized by the medical sciences and could become recognized as a non-mysterious form of psi, and ultimately ceased to be seen as psi, but as normal aspect of the human mind. The key here is that the concept of psi in parapsychology is far from being objective and neutral. It is quite specific to our time and to the Western scientific culture.

This broader definition of psi also means that avant-garde artistic creations, which transgress social conventions by definition and express yet unperceived emotions, are also a form of psi. From that point of view, this provides also further justifications for considering the arts as the social-level counterpart to remote-viewing. It can be further linked to the notion that psi is something to be understood within the realm of trickster archetype, as proposed by Hansen (2001). Psi is about transgressing social norms, and it is exactly what the trickster does. This explains in great part the ongoing difficulty of parapsychology, psychic sciences, and paranormal research to be considered as “respectable” in spite of their most meticulous efforts to produce high quality data.

Further critique of parapsychology

Favre is also critical of the concept of ESP. For him, it is none sense to talk about perception with having sensations. What we call ESP is just the reverse of the usual perception process. The brain is sending the signal to the senses, rather than the opposite. It is even possible to go further and say that the brain is always sending a signal to the senses to make sense of what is perceived. I see something strange (signal from the senses to the brain); the brain sends a signal to the senses it is a shadow; the senses sends another signal to the brain about a seeing shadow. What distinguishes psi is the order in which it is done, and once again if it is transgressing social conventions or not. After all, what is the difference between a hallucination (e.g., I feel a presence but there is no one) and a psi effect (e.g., I feel a presence AND there is someone). Let’s repeat the same example in a society like China where the cult of the ancestors is still quite strong. Then both would be amalgamated into the same experience (I feel the presence of an ancestor; I feel the presence of a living person). If we add also the notion that time is, from a phenomenological perspective, part of the imaginary, then the act of creation (feeling a presence) can occur in any portion of the imaginary (the presence may be in the past or in the future). The lack of an actual person in the immediate is no proof that there was no psi effect in the example above, once we accept that psi is creative act with the imaginary realm that transgresses social conventions. It is certainly a key issue in remote viewing, as the images seen are not necessarily about today. The creative act of knowing about a place that is “impossible” to know about is also done in a context of drawing into the imaginary of time. As one can see, this view of psi can have immense methodological implications from parapsychology.

Favre considers that there is no communication of information in ESP, but it is rather symbolic intentions that are exchanged within the imaginary timelines discussed above (hence, it could be instantaneous, or be done across centuries). Instead of communication, he prefers to use the notion of communion where symbolic intentions are shared. I would add that this is very close to the notion of people being “in tune” with the social unconscious discussed in the previous post. Furthermore, he considers that telepathy is when the symbolic intentions of one person are not defined yet, that they are in a state of flux, and thus available for accepting someone else symbolic intentions. This notion is also applicable to collective ESP, according to Favre. When many individuals are lowering their individual symbolic autonomy, voluntarily or involuntarily (e.g. when they are sleeping), then they can be involved in a larger communion of symbolic intents.

Favre proposes also a critique of PK based on a similar analysis. For him, the notion of action at a distance is profoundly misleading because from a phenomenological perspective PK requires that the muscles be involved. For Favre, PK is actually a signal from the muscles to the brain, which is the reverse of “normal” action over matter, as the brain sends a signal to the muscles to act upon matter. In PK, this signal is what brain use to act creatively and essentially feel “as if” it is moving the object. Once again, the psi effect will occur if the social conventions about what is possible or not can be transgressed by the individual within the imaginary realm. This explains, again, why PK was described as something more common in certain cultures and eras. This view of PK implies, as discussed above, that it is not different from the normal process of psychosomatic diseases and cures, and therefore it is part of the normal functions of the human mind. Favre also sees PK as expressing symbolic intentions on physical systems. Although he does not state it as such, physical systems, as physicists are now aware, are also made of information not just energy and matter, and information is something symbolic.

Favre also considers that materialization and dematerialization is a form of PK when an object is symbolically taken from the imaginary realm (materialization) and conceptualized in the present time, or taken from the imaginary out of the present time (dematerialization) and moved away into a different time in the imaginary realm. Hence, there is no materialization or dematerialization per se, but a standard PK movement accompanied with a shift in the imaginary timeline. Metaphorically, it is similar to the cinematographic tricks done to simulate materialization/dematerialization in movies.

Some Comments on Favre

Of his own admission, some of his ideas are speculative, but they are logically consequent with his definition of psi and time, and they can explain quite a few problems with respect to understanding psi. At a minimum, this gives interesting working hypotheses to redirect some parts of parapsychological research. An obvious application of Favre’s analysis to UFO and UFO waves is to explain the cultural and social dimensions of the phenomena, and the “premonitions” of future, but yet imaginable, technologies. Another one is that it allows for collective and even social psi to occur. However, it implies also that there is psi agent(s) that are projecting the creative power while many others are allowing themselves to participate.

An interesting hypothesis would be to look at how the UFO “buffs” and the UFO “sympathizers” are interacting. This same hypothesis could also be tried on the same arrangement found between “ghost hunters” and “ghost hunting sympathizers”. Furthermore, one can construe the social role of UFO buffs, and ghost hunters as redefining what is possible from what is impossible, and hence easing psi effects to occur. If strange things in the sky are understood as aliens from outer space, it is much more acceptable (ironically) than construing it as PK materialization. The ETH, although there is absolutely no evidence of alien life, is easier to accept than PK materialization in spite of the existence of a wide array of evidence and sound research on PK. Same story for ghosts, it is much easier to accept (ironically too) to see the spirit of dead people than accepting that one’s own mind is behind the phenomenon. These assumptions are quite obvious to me when I look at the “paranormal culture”.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Reading Notes – On Group Analysis and the Social Unconscious

This post is reviewing a group of articles discussing the notion of social unconscious as understood by clinical practitioners of group analysis (i.e., psychoanalysis in group). This approach to psychoanalysis was developed S. H. Foulkes during World War II in England, when we was called to provide treatments to soldiers with psychological injuries. After the war, Foulkes developed his experimental approach into a full-fledge branch of psychoanalysis known under the name “Group Analytic”. This approach is often defined by the motto “analysis by and for the group”.

This approach is interesting because it provides a bridge to understand the relationships between the individual and the collective unconscious, and it is based on the empirical findings of clinical practitioners of group analysis. Furthermore, this approach sees the individual and the collective unconscious in a manner very similar to the fractal approach I discussed in a previous post (although these practitioners do not use the concept of fractal). As well, towards the end of his life Foulkes provides some new perspectives on his approach that open the doors wide open for the integration of concepts such as synchronicity and a-causal communications. These new perspectives were picked up by some of his followers, and provide also an interesting bridge to parapsychology. Although, none of the articles reviewed here used the word psi or parapsychology, we are just a step away.

The articles reviewed are:

Dalal, Farhad. (2001). “The social unconscious: A post-Foulkesian perspective”. Group Analysis 34(4): 539-555.

Powell, Andrew. (1991). “Matrix, mind and matter: From the internal to the eternal”. Group Analysis 24(3): 299-322.

Thygesen, Bente. (2008). “Resonance: No music without resonance—without resonance no group 1”. Group Analysis 41(1): 63-83.

Zeddies, Timothy J. (2002). “Unconscious experience in social and historical context”. Group Analysis 35(3): 381-389.

Individual and collective unconscious as a continuum

One of the key notions in group analytic is that the individual unconscious and the collective unconscious cannot be separated in a radical way. Both are understood to be on a continuum from the more shallow aspect of the unconscious (the individual one) to the deepest (the collective or social unconscious). In typical group analysis, the analyst helps the group to “elevate” to their consciousness elements of the social unconscious, so that as a group they can deal with the common issue they have. The goal is , of course, a therapeutic one for the group members to take charge of their own lives and move towards a more fulfilling life. For instance, a group can be formed with former alcoholics, who together bring to their consciousness that element of the social unconscious implying that “alcoholics are losers”. This negative view does not only reside in the unconscious depth of the group members, but can be found in the society at large. As group, they not only recognize this deep and debilitating unconscious complex, but they redefine as a group their collective identity as “survivors”. This, in turn, will help the group, as well as each individual, to reinforce their self-esteem and therefore be in a better position to remain sober, and ultimately leave their alcoholic past permanently behind.

What some group analysts did, however, is to go beyond that and try to encompass the entire social realm into their analysis. From that point of view, they reject the Freudian notion that there is a conflict between our natural ways and what society requires of us to be able to live in group. In blending the psychoanalysis of Foulkes and the sociology of Norbert Elias it is possible to say “they have shown us that, because developmental process takes place within a sociological milieu, the structures and preoccupations of this milieu are necessarily involved from the start. Further, as sociological processes are necessarily drawn into the developmental process, they must permeate the psychology of the individual at all levels.” (Dalal 2001: 547). Or, in other words, “what is unconscious is not bound by individual variables but something that is shaped from the onset by an intricately woven tapestry of moral and ethical values, beliefs and assumptions.” (Zeddies 2002: 382).

This issue can be more clearly seen through the notion of power relations between social groups, and how power shapes collective and individual identities. “Thus the possibilities available to any individual are constrained by the power relations in the milieu into which the individual is born. Therefore the nature of the so-called true individual authentic self cannot be other than fundamentally constituted by where it is positioned in the power relational field”. (Dalal 2001: 547). This notion is quite well known in the field of anti-racism studies, after the pioneer work of Frantz Fanon who showed that non-white colonized people learned from the start to be “inferior” and “obedient” to the colonizers. Norbert Elias, a pioneer of this type of sociological analysis, discovered these deep and subtle power patterns during some of his empirical researches in English small towns. He found that the identities of residents who could claim a multi-generational link to the town had more clout, power, and status than the newcomers, and this was creating the key social dynamics in these towns (Elias 1978).

From a psychological perspective, this means that it had “a dire and debilitating effect on the psyche—leading eventually to depression or expression of anger and self-hate” among the newcomers (Dalal 2001: 552). Again, this can be also seen in the context of inequalities between social classes, where people with less money internalize their “losing position in the materialist consumerist race”. Materialist consumerism is definitely a phenomenon only in existence since the Industrial Revolution, and most prominent since the second half of the 20th century. So, it is therefore possible to say that “the social and historical context shapes what can be explicitly known and what must be repressed, denied or remain unformulated. This feature of unconsciousness helps, I think, to better appreciate how wider social or cultural forces shape the boundary between conscious and unconscious states, and how the unconscious is a social and historical artefact” (Zeddies 2002: 384). Now, if one thinks about a frustrated community that has certain shared values that prevents the expression of collective dissent or of violence (like very strict Christian values), then we can have a situation very similar to the ones found in individual RSPKs.

This point has also a lot of implication for the study of psi. After all, if the unconscious is an historical and social artefact, and that the source of psi effects is linked to unconscious mental processes, then parapsychology has it work cut out. It is especially true if we take this notion of “social or cultural forces shaping the boundary between conscious and unconscious states” seriously. The direct implication is that positivist attempts to find a universal threshold between the conscious and the unconscious (the liminal zone where psi occur) is a fallacy. Where this zone is can only be described in relative terms within the framework of a culture. So, not only its content is specific to a society, a culture, an era, but also how it is triggered. This would also provide some explanations, i.e. going beyond description, of what Vallée and others have noted in terms of the cultural and historical content of UFOs and apparitions (seeing aliens now, seeing fairies then), as well as to how and when it is more likely that they appear in a given society (for instance, Bigfoot appears in very low density areas in the Western world; a monkey-like and terrifying creature appears in India in the middle of East Delhi in May 2001).

Some aspects of the unconscious dynamics

Many individual psychoanalysts find themselves facing psi effects while engaging with their clients in their clinical practice. The famous story of Jung, the over-rationalizing client and the scarab is a well-known one. Present-day analysts are becoming more vocal about these phenomena. For instance, “psychic phenomena—telepathy, clairvoyance, etc.—once a domain most commonly addressed by Jungian analysts, is increasingly coming under investigation from a psychoanalytic perspective as well. [...] Only a handful of psychoanalysts since the 1950’s on have addressed the matter of occultism directly, but for a growing number of psychoanalysts (Mayer, Morgan, Matte-Blanco, Toton, for instance) it is no longer a question of whether or not these phenomena beyond sensual experience exist.” (Reiner 2004: 313).

I assume that analysts involved in group analytic are also facing similar situations, and they too are starting to come out of the wood work. For instance, “the process of imaginative identification that we call empathy may even turn out to be a sensitivity not unlike clairvoyance! This astonishing fact, of physical and mental interpenetration, calls to mind Foulkes’ statement that: ‘it is always the transpersonal network that is sensitised and gives utterance or responds. In this sense we can postulate the existence of a group mind’” (Powell 1991: 319).

More recently, another group analyst, using his own clinical experience, looked into the concept of resonance proposed by Foulkes to understand the social unconscious. He proposed something quite close to what parapsychologists are saying about psi. “Communication without any particular message being sent or received—that was Foulkes’ definition of resonance. It might as well be defined as instantaneous interaction without any information or exchange of energy being in fact non-local.” (Thygesen 2008: 78).

Resonance, in the group analytic approach, is what occurs at deepest level of the unconscious, the social unconscious. Metaphorically, it implies that people are “in tune” at a deep level so that there is no need to communicate to have communication. A concrete example is on 4 May 1955, the 10th anniversary of the end of the German occupation of Denmark, “what was unforgettable was, that the whole of the city (of Copenhagen) was illuminated in less than one hour ... Without any agreement and without anyone knowing from where all these candles came ... they suddenly stood there side by side in every window sill, small torches, sending their flickering light from home to home all over the country” (Thygesen 2008: 64). Thygesen, will discussing resonance, also see it as the key to understand how small group identity emerges. “[...] the processes expressed in resonance, are a prerequisite for the group-formation as such. In the sense that a gathering of people turns into a group with members’ experience of a ‘we’, seen from outside as an ‘it’, and in the sense that the group is seen and understood as a unity and a wholeness.” (Thygesen 2008: 79).

I think this concept of resonance can be quite useful to understand the inner dynamics of RSPKs, where a family is at a deep unconscious level “in tune” in their dysfunctional dynamics, which gives strength to the psi effect. From a parasociology perspective, I think it is also possible to have a society unconsciously “in tune” at a deep level and thus provide strong enabling conditions for a macro psi effects.

Lastly, it is interesting to relate a few elements together. The fact that teens are often associated to RSPKs appears to me a matter of deep individual identity being tumultuously created at the deepest level of the unconscious (rather than being a biological issue per se). Batcheldor, cited in Heath (2003), spend also quite a bit of time in the group-sitter experience in developing a group-mind in creating a “light party-like atmosphere to minimize witness inhibition” (p. 157). Lastly, Ginach (2004) underlined that strange and disruptive synchronistic events occurring at the social level when there are deep contradictions in the national identity. Hence, socially and culturally bound contexts in which identity is created at deep unconscious levels appear to be playing a key role in various forms of psi effects.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reading Notes – Scott Rogo’s The Haunted Universe

In this post I am reviewing Scott Rogo’s The Haunted Universe. This book, originally published in 1977, is essentially about materialization as a psychic phenomenon, with a substantial emphasis on UFOs.

It is interesting to note that Heath (2003) in her book on PK (reviewed a few posts ago) quotes Rogo several time, and yet she does not mention a word about UFOs (as already noted in one of my posts). I think that in spite of Heath’s goal to enlarge the approach in parapsychology (particularly by integrating phenomenology), she still had to stay not too far from “mainstream parapsychology.”

Rogo faced the same issue in 1977, but he decided to go ahead anyway. In the acknowledgements section, he wrote: “Finally, I would like to thank those few ‘respectable’ parapsychologists and colleagues who urged me not to write this book, fearing it would adversely reflect on both me and the field. It was their timidity and reticence that helped me realize how important getting this material out in the open really is!” (p. vii). Hence, Rogo’s book is also an implicit critique of parapsychology. Not that the discipline does not do a job at what it does, but rather that it needs to enlarge its horizons if it wants to remain relevant.

In any event, as one can appreciate, the idea of looking at UFOs as a form of haunting is not a new one, and I think that Rogo’s ideas need to be put back on the front burner. The full notice is:

Rogo, Scott. (2006) [1977]. The Haunted Universe. San Antonio: Anomalist Books.

Rationale to go beyond the traditional boundaries of parapsychology

Rogo provides a number of well documented cases of paranormal phenomena that are for the most part ignored by parapsychology. Although, some like Heath have tried to open the door to some of them, the discipline remains uneasy about them, particularly UFOs. I think Rogo’s is still right today when he wrote that “just mention the Fatima miracles, or UFOs, or weeping madonnas, or mysterious lights in the sky to parapsychologists and they will out-icy-stare any group of academicians!” (p. 3). The key, however, is not to return to the séance business of the psychical research era. I think Rhine was right in staying away from that form of research. Yet, the existence of ostensible paranormal phenomena, or macro psi effects, is the main reason as to why parapsychology still exists today.

The issue, in my opinion, remains one of epistemological and ontological bias, and therefore of lack of methodological imagination. Spontaneous phenomena, which are produced through very subtle unconscious dynamics, are not easy to study, especially if one is taking a positivist perspective. But positivism since the 1960s was all but demolished in social sciences because it is not fit for the study human realities. If psi is a human generated phenomenon, then there is no reason as to why the critique of positivism cannot be integrated into psychology in general and parapsychology in particular. Yet, these disciplines have mostly ignored such criticism because they were seeking the financial and symbolic support of powerful social institutions like commercial enterprises research funding, governmental recognition, and academic reputation. After three intense decades of postmodernist anti-positivism critique that spilled over from academia into mainstream society (including the military!), parapsychology should be able “unstiff” a bit.

I think it is in this spirit that, while reflecting on PK and ESP, Rogo wrote: “if the mind can do this much, it can do much more. Within the power of the mind and body may lie the key with which we might solve all sorts of mysteries that continually haunt our world. We see UFOs in the sky, but no one ever seems able to shoot one down. We have long hunted for Bigfoot and a host of kindred abominable snowmen, but they always seem to vanish, gremlinlike, while we are hot on their trail.” (p. 4). Then he goes further in detailing his thesis that: “The possibility and evidence that we are actually populating our universe with psychic creations and beings will serve as the topic for this book. I have no doubt that such things as UFOs and ‘monster’ are physical realities ... realities totally apart from our minds. But I believe that they are psychic realities as well. The enigmatic creatures and vehicles are haunting our planet, but through the power of our minds, we are imitating them and creating more and more of them. (pp. 4-5).

In other words, Rogo’s book is about documenting and trying to provide some explanations for a particular and neglected form of PK, materialization (and dematerialization), which includes UFOs and alien sightings.

Materialization in general

The author provides some of the most interesting cases of materialization and dematerialization that occurred during poltergeists manifestations (RSPK). They include the apparition and disappearance of everyday objects like utensils and jewellery, but also of balls of light floating around, bloods on the walls, and even unexplainable rains of object or strange substance. Not only objects appear and disappear, but also people (teleportation) and strange entities, some terrifying while others are fairy-like. All these cases of various forms of materialization and dematerialization have been documented all the way to the Middle Ages (in the Western culture). The key argument, hence, is that (1) materialization and dematerialization related to RSPK is well documented; (2) RSPKs are known to be the result of human unconscious mental activities, oftentimes associated to socially dysfunctional settings; and therefore (3) various forms of materialization are likely to be of human origin too.

Following the same logic, Rogo provides also some well documented cases of materialization that do not appear to be related directly to RSPKs. He includes miracles and Marian apparitions, particularly the 1905 lights seen in Wales during religious revival activities, the Fatima events of 1917, the Garabandal miracles of 1961-65, and the Zeitoun apparitions of 1968-71. Although these cases appear different from RSPKs, they nevertheless have a number of commonalities between them, and with the UFO phenomenon in general. Among them are: (1) smaller lights surrounding larger lights; (2) lights disappear suddenly leaving a smoke or vapour trail; (3) lights are blinking; (4) lights have strange movements (zigzag, hover, quiver, high rate of speed); and (5) humming sounds. Rogo is also aware that others have made the connection between UFOs and the Fatima events (as early as 1962, by Paul Thomas in the Flying Saucer Review). But Rogo adds that “it is clear to me that the lights seen in Fatima, Wales, Garabandal, and Zeitoun were psychic projections of almost unbelievable magnitude” (pp. 78-79).

UFOs as human generated materializations

Rogo underlines one of the main problems in ETH ufology, which has been also noted by Basterfield (2001), Favre (1978), Phillips (1993), Schwartz (1983), and Viéroudy (1978b), that “none of these theories takes into account the evidence that UFOs might be intrinsically related and connected to the people who view them, and not independent objects at all. In other words, even though UFOs are physical objects, they might be projections from our own minds” (p. 84).

Cultural nature of UFOs

The first argument put forward by Rogo to support his thesis is that the “evidence which supports my theory that, by and large, UFOs are psychic manifestations comes from the fact that UFOs often mock our own thoughts. This would indicate that during a UFO encounter, the object is not independent of the viewers who see it or the culture in which it materializes” (p. 84). Rogo offers examples from real cases, but this issue of the a bit “too human” UFOs and aliens is now a well-known one.

Yet, Rogo add an important nuance, quite useful in the context of parasociology: “UFOs may not be dependent on any one person’s psychic projection [...] They often mimic a cultural aptitude. In other words, our entire culture may be projecting UFOs psychically” (p. 87). He thinks that miraculous events like in Fatima in 1917 fit this description. As well, he thinks that Jung was right in seeing a “cultural need” in the UFO phenomenon. But he disagrees with Jung, in that UFOs are at least somewhat physical in nature, and that UFOs are not only a modern myth as they were seen before the industrial era. Out of this critique of Jung, Rogo proposes that “UFOs reflect the cultural needs and expectations of the society in which they appear” (p. 88). He provides the now well known facts that during the Airship waves of 1899-1900, 1907, 1909, the ghost planes of the 1930s, and the ghost rockets of 1946, what was seen was a few years ahead of its time in terms of available human technology; something that remains within the realm of the imaginable for humans. Hence, it appears that the cultural element plays on both the individual level, and at the social level.

Rogo, for instance, sees a lot of symbolism in the Barney and Betty Hill story. “They were married during a time when racial equality and acceptance was a dream, not a reality. The psychological frustration and self-questioning they must have gone through are aptly presented in their abduction tale” (p. 123). The issue of reproduction and mixed children was clearly at the center of their story, and this was a big issue for mixed couples in those years (even if Betty was infertile).

UFOs and what is known in parapsychology

The second argument proposed by Rogo is that “if a person sees a UFO once it is highly likely he will see one again at some time during his life” (p. 86). Once again he offers real cases to support his argument. The famous case of Barney and Betty Hill fits this picture as well, as they saw UFOs after their 1961 encounters. It is known in parapsychology that some people have more aptitude to produce psi effects than others, especially when it comes to macro psi effects.

Another argument that Rogo proposes is that many UFO events are accompanied by other psychic events. But we have to be clear about what constitute a psychic event in the first place. One of the interesting examples he provides is about witness accounts of telepathic communications with aliens that are always described as ‘clear’ and direct. Yet, research in parapsychology has shown that “telepathically transferred or assimilated information is usually fragmented, symbolic, or distorted. There is no such thing as ‘perfect’ ESP” (p. 91). Hence, alien encounters like the one in the story of Barney and Betty Hill need to be re-thought seriously, in spite of the sincerity of the Hills couple. There seem to be psychical and dreamlike elements in their story. Rogo identifies three psychic elements of UFO sightings that can be directly related to what is known in parapsychology: (1) having the impression that one should look somewhere in particular before seeing a UFO; (2) poltergeist-like activities surrounding the UFO sighting; (3) miraculous healing or unexplainable diseases. All these three elements have been studied by parapsychology and we know these are of human origin. Rogo adds yet another element: most psychic events occur when people are initially asleep as the unconscious mind is freer to express itself, and this fits well many UFO experiences, particularly the abduction cases.

Rogo provides several example of UFO sightings followed some time later by poltergeist activities. It is interesting to note that, once again, the Barney and Betty Hill case shows the same pattern (particularly, Betty’s earrings that she was wearing during the UFO encounter were inexplicably found on her kitchen table with dead leaves a few weeks later).

The relative materiality of UFOs

Rogo also points out the issue of space-vehicle that are constantly violates the laws of physics. Rogo shows that they behave more like animals travelling in group, “playing hopscotch or leapfrog, and are very sensitive to atmospheric disturbances” (p. 87). As well, they have the ability to change shape, something noticed and documented by Jacques Vallée and many others. Lastly, they are very elusive as none was ever captured one. As Rogo states: “None of these facts is consistent with the theory that UFOs are physical vehicles. But they do fit neatly into the hypothesis that they are psychic materializations—physical objects created psychically by our own minds and molded by our own will” (p. 87).

With respect to sightings and interactions with alien entities, Rogo shows that many reports are about entities that are not fully physical. They go across walls; they do not leave tracks behind; they disappear in thin air; etc. For him, “apparitions represent an interface between mind and matter. They are partly physical, partly mental. UFOs and UFO occupants might fall into a similar pattern—projections from our own minds that take on the characteristics and the ability to manipulate real matter. They might be ‘real’ in every sense of the word, but still be products of our own psychic potential” (p. 112).

Rogo also underline that people can actually create UFO through psychic means. Once more, the Barney and Betty Hill case is a good illustration. In 1966, at the suggestion of a friend, they started what they called ‘psychophysical’ experiments, and they were successful in creating a number of UFO sightings, but also poltergeist-like activities. Betty always believed that she was in contact with her captors during those experiments, but research in parapsychology indicates otherwise; she is more likely to be the source of all this.

It is interesting to note, in passing, that Rogo also make a link with the idea of Tibetan tulpas, first introduced in the West by Alexandra David-Neel at the end of the 1920s.

Concluding Remarks

A very good book on the topic, and I would say it is a classic. Many of the concepts and issues I found elsewhere were probably originating from this book from Rogo. In any event, it is also well-written and entertaining.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet