Tuesday, September 29, 2009

UFOs, Synchronicity and Morphic Fields

This post examines the notions of synchronicity and morphic field in the context of UFO sightings. If the UFO phenomenon is essentially a psi-related reality, then synchronistic events should be associated with it. Such association, then, should be investigated seriously. What it means is that witnesses may actually have misperceived a mundane object and interpreted it as an ET spaceship. In such circumstances, the ETH ufologist would typically discard such sighting, and ignored any data coming out of it. ETH ufologists (and sceptics) would simply call this a mere coincidence.

But does it really matter if the UFO is actually a misperception or a truly unexplainable aerial phenomenon? I would propose that it does not matter much as long as the experience can be understood as a synchronistic event. One needs to look if the perception of a UFO at that very time could have been a meaningful event that relates to other part of the witnesses’ life. Why, because one should be aware that it is how many psi events start. Meaningful but mundane acausal events can lead to PK effects because ultimately they originate from the same unconscious processes. A single misperceived mundane object might not be a relevant point of data, but when it is put in perspective with several other data points, it might become very relevant. From a methodological standpoint, this implies significant changes as to how UFO events should be investigated. Not only UFO frauds or hoaxes (as discussed a few posts ago) should be included in any serious research but also UFO synchronistic (yet mundane) events.

The idea that synchronistic events surround the UFO phenomenon is not new, however. Raymond Fowler, famous for having investigated the Andreasson affair , wrote a book on how synchronicity was occurring in his life and he his UFO research (Fowler, Raymond. 2004. Synchrofile. Lincoln: iUniverse). John Keel, when investigating for the Mothman Prophecy also noted many synchronistic events around him. Scott Rogo, while researching for Haunted Universe had a few very troubling synchronistic events. Bertrand Méheust started his classic book on UFOs out of a synchronistic event.

To get a better sense as to how synchronicity can be integrated into parasociology in general, and the study of UFOs in particular, a closer look at synchronicity is required. Today’s post is inspired by a short but interesting book on the notion of synchronicity. I certainly recommend it for anyone who wants to have a good and clear introduction to this notion. The full notice is:

Combs, Allan and Mark Holland. (1996). Synchronicity: Through the eyes of science, myth and the trickster. New York: Marlow.

Synchronicity as a matter of perspective

The notion of synchronicity has been used in modern physics to describe the famous Bell’s inequalities. John Bell found that when two particles in the same quantum state are pushed through a splitter, their spin (quantum self-rotation) varies in the same way even if they are in a different position and have a different velocity. They appear to be linked by a non-causal property that is call in physics synchronicity or non-locality. In other words, what is perceived at the local level (the particles) can be only understood by a nonlocal understanding of reality (pp. 14-15). The physicist David Bohm proposed that synchronicity is a matter of perspective. If one transposes the splitter experiment from a four dimension construct into a six dimension universe, then the two particles become two different views of the same particle, which explains the paradox discovered by Bell. The key here is to understand that a six dimension universe cannot be imagined by the human mind. It is only a mathematical abstraction, but it is also an acceptance that there are other forces at play in the universe and that it requires a different approach to take stock of them.

If this general principle is extracted out of physics and applied to human life, this raises many interesting issues. One of them is that synchronistic events can be seen as outcomes of a morphic field (as discussed in a previous post, see also Sheldrake 1981; 2006). The morphic field becomes a descriptor for those additional dimensions beyond the usual four. There is also some empirical evidence to show that the notion of morphic field can be used that way. Combs and Holland mentioned some interesting experiments that involved mice, which at every generation they became more effective at finding their way out of a maze (p. 25). Another set of experiments was a hidden picture that was easier to recognize by people outside Europe after it was shown on British television. Somehow the knowledge was integrated into a morphic field (p. 27). Arthur Koestler, the well-known author and parapsychologists, also proposed that all ESP events were forms of synchronicity, in a way congenial Jung’s notion of Absolute Knowledge, which itself can be considered as super-morphic field.

The issue of psychokinesis (PK), however, is more complex. Combs and Holland underlined an approach proposed by Suzanne Padfield, who “ believes that the influence of thought upon material events is actually based on physical brain processes—that patterns of brain activity occurring at the molecular or atomic level tend to bring about similar patterns of external world activity. Such patterns ‘ are connected in a similarity space in which distances are defined by degree of similarity and where time and space do not automatically appear at all” (p. 35). This idea is not new. It is actually a very old one akin to the belief in the power of prayer, and more recently discussed in the book and movie The Secret. Human will can both tap into and influence morphic fields. In this context, the distinction in parapsychology between ESP and PK could be based on the notion of information exchange. ESP is mostly characterized by taking information out of a morphic field, while PK is rather characterized by inputting information in a morphic field.

Multi-level synchronicity as morphic field information exchange

By following the same logic, one could construe UFO events as an exchange of information. A substantial emotional upset in a community inputs information in a morphic field which eventually leads to a PK event (i.e. UFO sighting) while at the same time the individuals (who may have nothing to do with the original emotional outburst) “catch” information from the morphic field, and thus explaining the paranormal events linked to UFO sightings (e.g., premonition and dreams of UFOs, be there at right place and right time, synchronistic events before UFO sightings, and UFO repeaters who could be seen as more “in touch” with this type of morphic field).

This way of looking at the UFO experience goes much beyond what Combs and Holland discussed. But it can help to resolve an apparent paradox illustrated by the 30 year-old debate between Bertrand Méheust and François Favre. As discussed in previous posts, Méheust considers that people who see UFOs are truly witnesses of an event for which they have no impact on. This view is supported by the fact that many key symbolic elements in UFO sightings appear to have no meaning for the individual witnesses, but do have a meaning for their community or society. On the other hand, as François Favre underlined, the UFO experience is very often surrounded by paranormal events (premonition, telepathy, synchronicity, Oz factor, etc) directly linked to the witnesses. It is Favre's contention, therefore, that people who see UFOs have something to do with it (or in his terminology, they are psi-subjects). The notion of information exchange between a society and individuals through a morphic field would resolve this paradox. And quite frankly, it could be a foundational concept for parasociology applicable to other macro psi effects such as hauntings, RSPK (poltergeist), Bigfoot sightings, etc.

Archetypes versus morphic fields

The question would then shift to how societies “connect” to a morphic field. One of the usual answers is linked to the notion of an archetype being activated, as proposed by Carl Jung. As discussed in a previous post, the use of archetype can be highly problematic when it is situated at the sociological level. But if the notion that societies tend to input more into a morphic field than extracting from it, while it tends to be the reverse for individuals is correct, then maybe the Jungian “mistake” makes more sense. A major collective emotional discharge is not activating a social archetype it rather creates the conditions of archetypes at the individual level to be activated along the same line of resonance within a given morphic field. This is in line with what I wrote in the last post: “A symbol’s potential strength within a specific society, at a specific time of its history, is the key to interpretation rather than its presumed universal and timeless meaning”. In other words, the concept of archetype is a useful one at the individual level, but should be abandoned for the sociological level. The more plastic and dynamic notion of morphic field is definitely more effective at the sociological level. This perspective is certainly more coherent with what is known from the social sciences. However, the hard question as to why a few collective emotional discharges give rise to macro psi effects, while most of them do not remains to be answered.

How individuals connect to a morphic field is better understood, given the extensive research done in parapsychology. Just to name a few, one can underline the unconscious belief, facility to dissociate or suspend the intellect, exposure to electro-magnetic fields, strong and unresolved unconscious conflicts, etc. Yet, like for the sociological level, the hard question as to why some individual produce psi effects while others do not in similar circumstances remains unanswered as well.

The presence of synchronistic events, however, should be retained as a key indicator for future research.

Eric Ouellet ©2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Carl Jung, UFOs, and his method

This post is an attempt to come to term with some problems found in Jung’s analysis of the UFO phenomenon. As well, it seeks to integrate better his notion of archetype in parasociology. Jung’s last book, written in conjunction with some of his closest and most trusted followers, provides some key answers. In Man and His Symbols, Jung explains in plain terms his methodology and some of his key concepts such as the notion of archetype. The full notice is:

Jung, Carl (Ed.). (1964). Man and His Symbols. New York: Dell.

From the individual to the social analysis

Jung was a psychoanalyst, and unsurprisingly, he saw the universe from an individual’s point of view. Yet, Jung used his approach to study social realities, and other borrowed from him to do the same. Claude Lévy-Strauss, the famous French anthropologist, is probably the best known scholar who borrowed from Jung. Lévy-Strauss attempted to interpret social realities like social myths and cultural taboos using (implicitly) the notion of archetype. Although Lévy-Strauss is considered one of the pillars of modern anthropology, he was not able to show the universality of such method because archetypical myths vary very much from one society to the next. Hence, from a sociological and anthropological perspective, no social theory based on archetypes can be safely formulated. Many in these two disciplines attributed Lévy-Strauss’ problematic theorization of society to his implicit adherence to rigid structural Marxist theories, and that he failed to accept that social reality can be constructed in an almost unlimited number of ways. This may be true, but I think that at the core of Lévy-Strauss’ misuse of archetypical analysis is actually Jung’s own misunderstanding of the difference between social and individual realities. Furthermore, when Jung used his method at the sociological level, he did follow his own established methodology. This is particularly apparent in Flying Saucers (1958).

Jung, like Freud, considered that dreams are the “golden path” to the unconscious, and developed an extensive methodology to interpret dreams in order to understand what is going on with his patients. In Man and His Symbols, he wrote that the “two fundamental points in dealing with dreams are these: First, the dream should be treated as a fact, about which one must make no previous assumption except that somehow it makes sense, and second, the dream is a specific expression of the unconscious.” (p. 18). Clearly, societies do not dream as individuals do, and therefore some adaptations of the method are required. Although myths could be understood as expressions of a socially shared unconscious, they do not behave like dreams. Individual dreaming is an ongoing activity; it is about a multitude individual issue; and it uses a very wide array of symbols. On the other hand, foundational myths of a society tend to be relatively static; it is the same story repeated over time through conscious means. I think these fundamental differences are at the centre of Lévy-Strauss’ theoretical problems. Whatever is considered as collective dreaming it ought to be dynamic, and clearly it must be a product of the social unconscious rather than a conscious effort of repeating the same basic story. Social rumours are certainly fitting better the billet because they are dynamic and spontaneous. And it is exactly what Jung used in Flying Saucers: rumours. Social psi events are another good choice as they are both dynamic and spontaneous, and they can also be found in Flying Saucers (but only if one reads between the lines).

Social psi events, like UFO and alien sightings, are symbolic and similar to dreams in that there are made of “images and ideas that dreams contain cannot possibly be explained solely in terms of memory. They express new thoughts that have not yet reached the threshold of consciousness.” (p. 26). Not only individuals are oftentimes in a dream-like state (the Oz factor), but they often attribute a meaning of some sort to their experience. Furthermore, “symbols, I must point out, do not occur solely in dreams. They appear in all kinds of psychic manifestations. There are symbolic thoughts and feelings, symbolic acts and situations. It often seems that even inanimate objects cooperate with the unconscious in the arrangements of symbolic patterns. There are numerous well-authenticated stories of clocks stopping at the moment of their owner’ s death[...]” (p. 41). Once again, UFOs as symbolic manifestations are not solely subjective experiences, but involve also some “participation” from unanimated matter. Based on Jung’s approach, it is certainly meaningful to consider UFOs as akin to dreams, as they are both symbolic manifestations of the unconscious. The real issue, in fact, is not ontological; individual dreams and social psi events share enough fundamental characteristics to be analyzed with the same methodology. The problem is epistemological; Jung did not apply a key principle of his own methodology when dealing with flying saucers.

Jung is abundantly clear about the issue that each individual is unique, and each dream is unique. Therefore, “it is plain foolishness to believe in ready-made systematic guides to dream interpretation, as if one could simply buy a reference book and look up a particular symbol. No dream symbol can be separated from the individual who dreams it, and there is no definite or straightforward interpretation of any dream. Each individual varies so much in the way that his unconscious complements or compensate his conscious mind that it is impossible to be sure how far dreams and their symbols can be classified at all” (p. 38). And one more, “the knowledge of human nature that I have accumulated in the course of 60 years of practical experience has taught me to consider each case as a new one in which, first of all, I have had to seek the individual approach. [...] Some cases demand one method and some another” (p. 55). And just to be sure, “the interpretation of dreams and symbols demands intelligence. It cannot be turned into a mechanical system and then cramped into unimaginative brains. It demands both an increasing knowledge of the dreamer’s individuality and an increasing self-awareness on the part of the interpreter”. (p. 81) I think Jung could not have been clearer: his methodology is fundamentally about a case-by-case approach.

In Flying Saucers, Jung simply did not do that. He actually did not use a case-by-case approach. If Jung had followed his own method, he would have put the American society (or a portion thereof) on the “couch”, and try to understand what was going on with this particular society, at this particular time. Concretely, he should have taken the time to look into the special symbolism unique to the 1947 UFO wave and then repeat for the 1952 one, and treat them as if they were two different dreams. Then, he should have taken a different approach with a different “patient” (i.e., France) and look into the particular symbolism of the 1954 wave, and treat as yet another “dream” to interpret. The same should have been done with the Brazilian UFO wave of the late 1950s. What Jung did, instead, is to seek directly the universal symbolism behind the flying saucer and try to develop a reference book for a particular symbol, contrary to his own prescription. Or to put it in the words of his collaborator Aniela Jaffé, “Jung has explained the UFOs as projection of a psychic content (of wholeness) that has at all times been symbolized by the circle. In other words, this ‘visionary rumor,’ as can also be seen in many dreams of our time, is an attempt by the unconscious collective psyche to heal the split in our apocalyptic age by means of the symbol of the circle”. (p. 285).

Jung should be celebrated for being the first one to understand that UFOs are directly linked to collective unconscious processes, but he should be fustigated for not following his own method. Like Lévy-Strauss, he produced a static and rigid interpretation of a manifestation of the socially shared unconscious, and in both cases it is (in my opinion) the main point of dissatisfaction found in the writings of these two great minds of the 20th century.

UFO and the concept of archetype

Jung rightfully claimed that his concept of archetype was often misunderstood (p. 57). Archetypes are unconscious emotional thought-patterns that have a “tendency to form such representations of a motif—representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern” (p. 58). Furthermore, according to Jung “like the instincts, the collective thought patterns of the human mind are innate and inherited. They function, when the occasion arises, in more or less the same way in all of us. Emotional manifestations, to which such thought patterns belong, are recognizably the same all over the earth” (p. 64).

What this means is that in spite the fact that each dreamer and each dream are unique, they all share in common the activation of archetypes, and that each archetype has representational commonalities. The activation of an archetype is in turn linked to an imbalance between the conscious life of an individual and his/her unconscious one. Such imbalance is produced by events in the environment of the individual, and these events can be in the future (Jung gave an example of an archetype activated by a rationally unpredictable death that occurred 3 years later) (p. 66). In other words, for Jung the unconscious is working outside the “normal” flow of time.

For Jung, archetypes also operate at the social level, “but while personal complexes never produce more than a personal bias, archetypes create myths, religions, and philosophies that influence and characterize whole nations and epochs of history”. (p.68). It is probably the most problematic component of the concept of archetype. Historians and sociologists have convincingly refuted such a deterministic view of social reality. If there is something impossible to predict is social change. Yet, if one agrees with Jung, social change could be predicted because it is essentially a socially shared and inherited response mechanism to our environment. I think, once again Jung has not followed his method in developing the concept of archetype. Like in the case of individuals, societies might activate the same archetype when facing similar emotional challenges, but each response to such archetypical activation is unique and its ultimate outcome unpredictable. The more substantive argument here, I think, is that there is a fundamental indeterminacy linked to multiple unconscious interacting in a society, which does not exist at the individual level. In other words, the socially shared unconscious is much more dynamic and volatile because it is “fed” by thousands and millions of dynamic individual unconscious. From that point of view, to see in UFOs an archetypical circle, which interpretation is applied indiscriminately to every case is simply contrary to what Jung advocated. Jung, in fact, simply “turned into a mechanical system” his interpretation, and was rather unimaginative about it.

One can agree with Jung that when an archetype is activated, there is a lot of psychic energy in action (what he called numinosity) (p. 87), and by extension it is reasonable to think that psi events, including social psi events, are produced when an archetype is activated. Jung, particularly, interpreted synchronistic events as a sign of an archetype being activated (pp. 226-227). However, it is important to remember than even when a high level of emotional energy activates a particular thought-pattern (i.e. an archetype) the symbolic representation used by the unconscious can vary widely. I would even say that the same symbol (like a round UFO) can be used to express the activation of different archetypes (and I think that’s why Jung was prescribing so much caution in interpreting dreams and demanded to have an extensive knowledge of each dreamer) . Within societies, the meaning attached to each symbol is actually socially negotiated. For instance, the swastika, which is an old and widespread symbol, in Western countries is associated with the evil of the Nazi regime (death and destruction), while in India it is a positive religious symbol (continuity), and among Native American it is a positive and traditional symbol used to re-assert the Native culture (re-birth). Of course, one could say that in all these three instances it is about the “cycle of life”, but then one needs to ask about which part of the cycle? Thus, what is the usefulness of such interpretation if you do not have the context? Clearly, it is unwise to think that the presence of the same symbol means that the same archetype has been activated.

To stay within Jung’s timeframe, it is quite possible to see the 1947 UFO wave as an activation of survival fears (in the context of the USSR about to have the bomb); the 1952 wave as being linked to feeling of abandonment by the mother or parents (federal civil servants at the mercy of Senator MacCarthy—more on this on a future post); the 1954 wave as a lost of status within the tribe of powerful nations (France was just about to cease to be a colonial power); and the Brazilian wave of the late 1950s as the father becoming tyrannical (the emergence of a really bad military dictatorship in Brazil). Once again, all these four waves could be generalized as fears linked to safety, but then it becomes meaningless. Other societies in the same situation had a werewolf wave (France, a few years before the 1789 Revolution), mermaids (Israel in 2009), etc., which have nothing to do with circles. I think that round UFOs became in the 1950s a convenient symbol to grab attention, and it was unconsciously adopted by many societies in a context where it would be meaningful (i.e. beginning of the space age).

The ultimate conclusion that must be drawn for parasociology is that Jungian analysis, when transposed to the sociological level, must be adapted: the social unconscious selection of symbols (such as UFOs) must be understood based on the contextual capacity of a symbol to influence the collective consciousness. A symbol’s potential strength within a specific society, at a specific time of its history, is the key to interpretation rather than its presumed universal and timeless meaning. When a symbol becomes “institutionalized” then it will tend to repeat itself (hence we see UFOs since the last 60 years), and can be effectively described through Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of morphic fields (as discussed in a previous post). At the same time, I think symbolism in social psi events has also a declining effect because a symbol, when overused, loses its capacity to grab the attention of the collective consciousness. Such a declining effect at the individual level has been discovered a while ago by parapsychology (i.e. a same experiment produces lower psi results over time, as the individual unconscious gets bored and loses its focus).

Once again, Jung’s idea to look for activated archetypes to understand the emergence of UFO waves was simply brilliant. But Jung was no sociologist. At the social level, one symbol can reflect a vast array of archetypes. In other words, the symbolism directly linked to a psi event (like a round flying saucer) is not enough to understand the event. As Jung prescribed, there is nothing like developing “an increasing knowledge of the dreamer’s individuality and an increasing self-awareness on the part of the interpreter”.

Eric Ouellet © 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reading Notes – On the Trail of the Poltergeist

This post is about a classic in parapsychology written by psychoanalyst Nandor Fodor. This is an older book published in the late 1950s, and it recounts Fodor’s investigation of a famous British poltergeist case in the late 1930s. There are a number of key ideas in parapsychology that emerged from Fodor’s research. In spite of its older age, this book brings a number of useful concepts to parasociology. The full notice is:

Fodor, Nandor. (1958). On the Trail of the Poltergeist. New York: Citadel Press.

Fraud and the study of the paranormal

One of the main challenges in the study of the paranormal is the issue of fraud. The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) established a policy in the late 19th century that should someone commit fraud at any time, he or she would not be studied anymore by the SPR. This policy was adopted by other similar organizations. But this policy is erroneous in many ways. First of all, the presence of fraud does not preclude the possibility of genuine psi effects. Furthermore, as Batcheldor (1984) has shown, a bit of “cheating” helps to make people believe that they can succeed in producing psi effects. Such (unconscious) belief is a critical condition for producing psi effects. Also, it is important to note that the production of psi effects is helped when consciousness is “neutralized,” so that the unconscious can act with less constraint. Such neutralization may occur through psychological dissociation, which can be pathological or not.

One of Fodor’s key findings is that the distinction between genuine psi effects and fraud is not a useful one. What produces psi and what motivates one to enact fraud are very often coming from the same unconscious processes. Hence, as Fodor wrote about the case he investigated, “some of these happenings were self-evidential, establishing an excellent case for the supernormal range of the powers of Mrs. Forbes’s unconscious, others were of a compromising character but psychologically still very interesting. They made me incline to the analytical view that dissociated persons can work on two levels of consciousness. They may attempt fraud on one and continue it on the second in a state of genuine trance; they may also produce supernormal phenomena. In other words, the table sittings have led me to conclude that there is a genuine psychic angle in the problem of fraud and that the life of a dissociated personality must be considered as a whole and not split into departments of the genuine and the fraudulent” (p. 81).

From the point of view of UFO studies, such finding is important. A rash of UFO sightings is often accompanied with hoaxes. Yet, the symbolic content of those hoaxes is most likely feeding from the same socially shared unconscious processes. Therefore, one should not exclude fraud from the data when investigating a UFO wave, or a rash of sightings, as they provide important information. A good example of this is the Gulf Breeze incident of 1987-1988. The most common opinion is that Ed Walter engaged in fraud, as miniature models of the UFO photographed by him were found in his house. Yet, this does not preclude the possibility that he may have had a genuine UFO sighting. But what is more interesting is that it started a series of sightings in the region. Some of them were most likely night tests (or training) of seaborne missiles by the U.S. Navy (which in turn can be seen as an interesting synchronistic event), while others sightings could have been genuine psi events.

Interpretation of symbols

Another interesting element in Fodor’s book is the issue of interpreting symbols. As he wrote “there was a process of reasoning behind the apparently senseless act of the Poltergeist. It is not easy to follow it and it is never certain that our interpretation will be correct, but a little light is better than none at all. [...] The very choice of Mrs. Forbes’s apports [teleportation] impresses me as a cipher in which her tragic life-story is hidden. From wherever she got them, whether they came to her by supernormal or normal means, they had a definite meaning; they were governed by unconscious association.” (p. 217).

Without going through all his analysis, here are a few examples of what he meant. Fodor was convinced that Mrs. Forbes’ Poltergeist was linked to her repressed feelings linked to her past, as he discovered that she was victim of a pedophile when she was five. There were violet flowers appearing during the Poltergeist, which can mean “violate” (i.e. violated). There was coral appearing, which can be linked the choral that was singing when she was victimized. Her wedding night appears to have been very traumatic as well, although not because of her husband, but because of her past. Several objects appeared on their wedding anniversary. Many objects thrown by the Poltergeist were aimed at her husband (Mrs. Forbes clearly loved him consciously, but unconsciously wrongly associated him with her aggressor). Fodor’s interpretation is clearly influenced by the Freudian approach to psychoanalysis where sexual issues are central to interpretation. But his work shows that if one wants to interpret the symbolic meaning of psi events he or she must plough large (i.e. go much beyond the actual psi event) and look into a number of non-obvious symbols (like the word associations).

As shown in the posts related to the Hill story, such holistic symbolic approach can be fruitful. However, when it comes to interpret symbols linked to expressions of the socially shared unconscious, through events in the public realm, Fodor’s suggestions are more difficult to apply. In the public realm there are many more activities going on. It can be quite difficult to decipher what is relevant from what is not. Kottmeyer (1996) and Viéroudy (1977) noticed, however, that in the United States major UFO sightings tend to be related to concerns related to national security (which implies indirectly that we have a bunch a very psychologically repressed people in those milieus).

To go back to the Gulf Breeze incident, we have here again another case that tends to confirm the interpretation key for American cases. But because it was declared a fraud by many, key clues were missed. What was not studied is the symbolic signification of the sightings, including Walter’s alien visitation claims. His story is essentially about someone who is losing control over his life, and trying to get back control by making his story public. The symbolic structure of Walter’s life presents interesting parallels with key public events contemporary to the Gulf Breeze incident.

The first sighting occurred on 11 November 1987, on Veteran’s Day, which had a very special meaning for the Navy. Earlier that year 37 sailors of the USS Stark, a ship based in Florida, were killed in the Persian Gulf, in the context of the so-called Tanker War. It was one of the largest lost of life for the Navy since World War II. Emotions were certainly high on that day of 1987. These sailors died accidentally due to an Iraqi pilot who mistook the American ship for an Iranian one, but the U.S. Navy was there to fight the Iranians. Yet, at the same time the American government was accused of secretly selling weapons to Iran (Iran-Contra Gate). Feelings of betrayals among sailors were probably running very high.

What is more telling, however, is that there was a similar lost of control and scrambling to regain it during the same time period in and around the Office of the President. “The Democratic-controlled United States Congress issued its own report on November 18, 1987, stating that ‘If the president did not know what his national security advisers were doing, he should have.’ The congressional report wrote that the president bore ‘ultimate responsibility‘ for wrongdoing by his aides, and his administration exhibited ‘secrecy, deception and disdain for the law.’ It also read in part: ‘The central remaining question is the role of the President in the Iran-contra affair. On this critical point, the shredding of documents by Poindexter, North and others, and the death of Casey, leave the record incomplete’. “ (From Wikipedia)

The Gulf Breeze sightings occurred in a liminal time, i.e. when the content of a major public report was known by a few key players, but not released publically yet while there was serious tensions about national security in the Persian Gulf (a scenario similar to the Barney and Betty Hill story about the Transport Commission’s report and the Berlin crisis). Furthermore, it resembles a lot the October 1973 UFO wave, as there was a major conflict in the Middle East simultaneous to the Watergate scandal unfolding through the sudden resignations of the Secretary of Justice and his Deputy (as discussed in a previous post). In other words, this is another case in the United States of UFO wave concurrent to high level tensions about national security accompanied a major challenge to a key democratic institution.

Are these interpretation keys useful for future events? It is less than sure. Many days during the Bush administration would qualify for such context favourable to UFO wave (war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, the 2004 elections, 9/11 commission, Abu Ghraib, CIA authorized torture, etc), but there was no major rash of UFOs between 2000 and 2008 in the United States. A possible explanation for the lack of major UFO sightings is that the lost of trust in the Executive branch during the Bush era was more gradual and therefore less prone to sudden major collective emotional discharges. As well, maybe the American society is now more cynical than before, so there was no big upset about what occurred. Another possibility is that other psi events replaced UFOs, but remained under the “radar screen” (e.g., more Bigfoot sightings, more ghosts, more Chuppacabra, etc.).

In the light of Fodor’s research, it appears to me that a number of UFO cases might have been “closed” too fast.nAs well, this shows that the generally shared ”intuition” about a link between governmental conspiracies and the UFO phenomenon might hold some truth after all. But not in the way that most people imagine: UFOs are not enacting conspiracies (to hide their existence), but rather it is conspiracies about mundane power issues that set the stage for UFO sightings, be they psychokinetic UFOs, hoaxes, or synchronistic passage of mundane aerial objects.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Some particular methodological challenges about psi

Welcome back to all. I hope you all had a great summer.

This post is based on an older but interesting article about researching psi, which provides interesting suggestions that I find useful for the study of UFOs and UFO waves. The article is:

Shewmaker, Kenneth L. and Carlton W. Berenda. (1962). “Science and the problem of psi”. Philosophy of Science 29(2): 195-203.

Psi as a human phenomenon

The article raises an important question about the notion of psi, which is still incompletely answered by present-day parapsychology: Can psi be studied scientifically? The real challenge with this question is, in fact, not about what psi is, but how one defines science. If science is defined as developing an organized body of knowledge about the fundamental dynamics of the universe (broadly defined), then psi can be studied scientifically. But if the study of the fundamental dynamics of the universe requires repeatable experimentation (i.e. at will) as a sine qua non condition, then psi cannot be studied scientifically because it is too elusive and unpredictable for experimentation. If this last and very narrow view of science is accepted, then not only parapsychology is in trouble, but also sociology, political science, anthropology, etc.

Most scientists now agree that the crux of the matter is not about experimentation, but about ontology (i.e. what are we dealing with). When one is dealing with humans, then there are a number of additional challenges not found in natural sciences that come up. Humans are creative and find innovative solutions that cannot be predicted; they self-define they own reality and therefore their behaviour is not easy to predict; human situations are always found in an open environment so that variables cannot really be controlled, or even all known; humans have unconscious mental processes that are hard to investigate but that have a lot of impact on their behaviour, preferences, etc. These additional challenges make experimentation almost useless when it comes to humans and thus other methodologies are required.

The point here is that psi is a human phenomenon and it should be studied by using the methodology of the human and social sciences rather than the one from natural science. The consequence of this is that those who have a narrow view of science will never be satisfied because they need experimentation or quasi-experimental setting to study any object of inquiry. If the object does not fit this mould, then they simply ignore the research done on the topic. It goes without saying that this issue is of paramount importance for the study of UFOs and UFO waves as psi effects. ETH ufologists, by definition, consider UFOs as physical objects that should be studied using the natural science approach. They tend to have a narrow (not to say naive) view of science, and therefore use that the experimentation criteria to reject other approaches (while themselves cannot produce any experimental data worth that name...). In other words, the centrality of the human dimension is usually completely ignored. As well, most ETH ufologists are not interested in understanding the ontological challenges linked to the UFO phenomenon (do they even know the existence of the word ontology?). Hence, it is further reason to accept that there is no point in trying to engage ETH ufology.

Some methodological suggestions

Shewmaker and Berenda take notice of some key issues about the study of psi. Psi cannot be produced “on demand” for very long (the well-known declining effect of psi first noticed by J. B. Rhine). The same problem exists in social psychology (e.g. one cannot repeat the same focus group experiment too many times with the same group, people get sick of it). Almost all ostentatious psi effects are unique events (like most social, political, and cultural events). As well, these psi effects tend to be spontaneous. Most parapsychologists think that it is because psi effects are dependent on unconscious mental processes that cannot be monitored simultaneously to the production of the effect. Spontaneous psi effects tend to have a symbolic content that cannot be interpreted objectively; it requires an in-depth understanding of the producer’s psyche and unconscious thoughts. Lastly, a number of parapsychologists consider that ESP effects, in particular, are constantly occurring, where psi-gathered information, normally gathered information, innovative thought and fantasy are always mixed up, which makes psi almost impossible to insulate from other variables and influences.

To deal with such challenges, they offer a number of solutions that are relatively closed to what has been proposed for parasociology so far. First, they proposed to use what they call “nondiscursive symbolism [which] has been used in the discussion of various art forms and for communicating the psycho-dynamics of individual patients in the psychological clinic” (p. 200). What this means is that the methodologies found in the symbolic interpretation of arts and dreams can be quite useful in understanding the uniqueness of a psi event. This has been already discussed about UFOs and UFO waves on this blog, and it is further arguments to continue to do so.

When it comes to individuals, they propose something that few parapsychologists have done so far (even in the case of poltergeists). “The course to pursue would seem, therefore, to be a truly intense psychological study of the person or persons involved in any reported incident of psi, not simply to determine the personality type but rather with the intent of a presentational understanding of the unique persons and the unique event. This is to suggest that clinicians “gang-up” on one reported psi incident, as soon after the fact as possible, making use of any or all clinical devices at their command. Special attention might be paid to such questions as: ‘What psychological meaning did the psi event have for this particular person at this particular time? What were the conditions of the interpersonal relationships at the time? What function did the psi event appear to serve for the persons involved?” (p. 201).

This suggestion is quite interesting and brings back to the forefront the case of Barney and Betty Hill, as they were the object of an intense psychological study by Dr. Simon and a significant portion of the data was made public in Fuller’s book. As shown in the previous posts about the Barney and Betty Hill case, the questions suggested by Shewmaker and Berenda are not only relevant, but most of them can be answered with the existing data from the Barney and Betty Hill hypnotic investigation! It is clear that true Close Encounters of the 3rd type (CE3) (i.e. involving BOTH seeing an object up close and their perceived passengers), as well as the so-called CE4, can be best studied through the approach proposed by Shewmaker and Berenda. The key, however, is to change the central question from “what can I learn about aliens and their spaceship” to “what can I learn about the people (and their deep mental processes) who can create macro psi effects”. This last question is a true scientific question, but about unique and spontaneous human phenomena.

Implications for parasociology

The questions proposed by Shewmaker and Berenda can be applied to social-level psi effects as well, although it would sociologists and anthropologists who should “gang up”. The questions would become: What sociological or cultural meaning did the psi event have for this particular society at this particular time? What were the conditions of the inter-group relationships at the time? What function did the psi event appear to serve for the society involved?

To offer some concrete illustration of this approach, the new case of seeing mermaids (yes, mermaids) in Israel will be used. The mermaid “wave” info can be found at: http://www.cryptomundo.com/cryptozoo-news/israel-mermaid/

This is an interesting variation to the UFO wave phenomenon. Inter-group relationships: there are a lot tensions in Israel about the Iranian nuclear programme, and the unclear plans of the West on how to deal with it. At the time of the sightings, there was not much talk about it in Israel (vacation season), but it was probably "cooking" in the collective unconscious. Sociological or cultural meaning: the symbolism is also interesting, as mermaids (like the devil) mislead people in the wrong direction while being attractive or inviting. What function: I think many people in Israel are coming to accept unconsciously the tempting yet dangerous notion that further diplomatic talks with Iran is a waste of time, although diplomatic talks appear to be the "righteous" way. Concretely, Israel might be getting the resolve to deal with the Iranian threat with or without Western support (with all the very serious consequences this might create for the Middle East and the world in general).

This is only a short illustration, but it shows that a parasociological approach can be used on a number phenomena.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet