Monday, April 26, 2010

The Canadian 1966-67 UFO wave (Part 1)

This post is the first one about the UFO wave that occurred in Canada in 1966-1967. Other countries, especially the United States, were also experiencing a UFO wave at time. As it will be explained below, the Canadian portion of the wave can be studied as a discrete portion of a wider event. This case study is in many ways an extension of the 1952 Washington D.C. case. The same foundational approach will be used, namely system theory and the Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI) developed by Walter von Lucadou to study recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK) events, also known as poltergeists. However, given that the scope of the 1966-1967 UFO wave is much more complex than the 1952 events, the MPI will be used in the wider context of the Weak or Generalized Quantum Theory (GQT), as the MPI is a special case of the GQT[1]. The implications of the GQT will be described through the case study. First, some key conceptual and methodological issues requiring some discussion.

Psi displacement on a grand scale

As stated in the previous post, it is difficult to define what constitutes a UFO wave, even when it is actually occurring. The 1966-1967 wave is a clear illustrative case. John Keel was one of few who wrote about the UFO wave as it was occurring[2]. But for many the full realization that there was a major UFO wave unfolding came afterward, as the late Richard Hall noted in 1978 MUFON conference[3]. Similarly, the Canadian John Magor wrote an article in 1969 entitled “1967 Canadian UFO Wave: The Year We Were Invaded Without Knowing It”[4]. Magor noticed that people in Canada were aware that something was going on, but they did not really grasped the magnitude of the event. Furthermore, as a number of ufologists have underlined, by 1966 the Project Blue Book was only the shadow of itself, and for all intent and purpose there was no central repository for reporting UFO sightings. According to Hynek’s evaluation of Project Blue Book reports, there were only 36 “unidentified” for 1966 and 19 for 1967[5]. This situation certainly made the recognition of a UFO wave even more difficult.

If one looks at UFO waves as discrete events, then it is obvious that the 1966-67 wave was different from the American wave of 1952 and the European wave of 1954. The phenomenon was much more ostentatious in the 1950s than it was in the 1960s. Otherwise, people would have been aware that a major UFO wave was unfolding. Moreover, the 1952 wave seemed to have an epicentre (i.e., Washington D.C.), while the 1966-1967 wave clearly lack such epicentre. This is an important clue that should point our understanding of the UFO phenomenon, once more, towards a parapsychological (or parasociological) explanation. As it is well-known in experimental parapsychology, expected psi effects tend to decline over time but new ones are found after the fact through post-experiment review of data and among variables that were not suspected at first[6]. This is called the displacement effect.

Emergent properties of a large system

The MPI has been developed to study RSPKs, but there are some differences between RSPKs and UFO wave that require further analysis, especially in the context of a psi phenomenon that has been displaced. Poltergeist events, or RSPKs, tend to occur in a particular city, cause quite a mess, but then stop. The next one may appear years later usually in a different city, but creating similar psycho-social and physical effects. In other words, the larger observing system (i.e. the city) is rarely the same one. Or to put in the terminology of experimental parapsychology, there is also a new experimenter. In the case of UFOs, however, given that they were usually investigated by the armed forces and other national security agencies of a country, the observing system does not change over time, and therefore one should expect an accumulation effect in the observing system not present in RSPKs. Such accumulation, according to system theory, is a key condition to observe emergent properties of a system. Beyond the displacement effect discussed above, there were other important emergent properties linked to the 1966-1967 wave.

The first emergent property was the transition from a “public” to multiple “private” observation systems. By the 1960s, the public observation system came to suffer from “UFO fatigue,” so to speak. What is meant here is that in the 1950s the state, both in United States and Canada, was the main observational system with the project Blue Book and project Magnet (plus an ad hoc accumulation of data by various governmental agencies), respectively. By the 1960s, the state is not as active in the UFO data collection. In the U.S., the project Blue Book is much less active, and the pre-ordain Condon Report conclusions to get finally rid of the UFO issue is set in motion, leading to the formal closure of project Blue Book. In Canada, National Defence finally transferred their UFO files to the National Research Council in September 1967[7], who passed the buck to a group of University of Toronto professors (to create a Canadian version of the Condon Committee)[8]. They investigated a number of reports, but eventually closed the project in 1969 in the wake of the Condon Report conclusions[9]. The ultimate outcome of all this is that the observation came to rely solely on private citizens organized in UFO clubs and associations such APRO, NICAP, CAPIC and many others. By the 1970s, the observational system was essentially privatized, and very fragmented, but in the 1966-1967 the observational system could be described as being in a state of transition between a public and private and fragmented observational systems. From the point of view of the MPI, this situation implies that multiple pragmatic messages could be observed with several different intended audiences.

Another emergent property in the context of the MPI is linked to the fact that the suppression phase (as discussed in the 1952 case) never actually stopped because the public observational system was country-wide and had to deal with on-going sightings over many years. The lack of cooperation between the public observational system and the slowly emerging private systems is a well-known story which led to fuel conspiracy theories becoming mainstream ideas. Such phenomena have been studied extensively by social scientists, in different contexts, and there is nothing unusually about it when applied to the case of the UFO community. The more a dominant view is trying to suppress a minority view, the more it empowers the minority view to become the mainstream perspective[10]. By 1966-1967, the theories of conspiracy were fully part of the UFO world in the emergent private observational systems. In Canada, such views were also well entrenched by the 1960s[11]. Hence, even if today the suppression is almost completely gone from the public observational system, the perception of such suppression remains. From the point of view of the MPI, this conspiracy context becomes an integral part of the experience and should be present from the surprise phase. The prediction is therefore that the pragmatic message will be displaced from starting as having the shape of a conspiracy (to get attention) towards something that stubbornly refused to be a conspiracy (to express the pragmatic information) in spite of the best efforts of the conspiracy-minded investigators. This prediction is consistent with the “non-transmission” axiom of the GQT, as it will be discussed in the next post.

A third emergent property is linked to the fragmentation and privatization of the observational system. This new system, nested within what remained of the public system, developed over time its own orthodoxy, and engaged also in suppression as it wants to manage a reliable system too. Hence, a double system and MPI logic emerged, where the suppression in the new system is based on suppressing anything that is not consistent with the Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis (ETH). It is in this context that Jacques Vallée’s famous phrase declaring that he is a “heretic among the heretics” can be understood. This third emergent property was slowly getting in place in the 1960s, through the partial rebuttal of Jacques Vallée’s work on Magonia, James MacDonald’s assertion that there is something parapsychological about UFOs, and of course John Keel’s own rejection of the ETH. As in the case of the conspiracy theory emergent effect, the ET-like nature of the sightings attracted attention but “stubbornly refused” to be confirmed, also consistent with the “non-transmission” axiom of the GQT.

This ETH-based suppression came into full swing when the Roswell story started to gain significant traction in early 1980s. It is interesting to note that the private observation systems are now also suffering from “UFO fatigue” (or should I say fatigue from a persistent “lack of evidence about ETs”), as discussed in several previous posts. This translated in the last 10 years into what Jacques Vallée, once again, eloquently stated in a public conference: “there is very little research conducted today about UFOs, they are just waiting that the government reveals everything”. The private observation systems are now the shadow of themselves (BUFORA, SOBEP, to name a few), and it is unclear if there is a transition towards another observation system. It is ironic that the once despised public observational system is now begged for help by the private observational systems (Wall Street did not invent this...). If it is not transiting, then it is likely that UFOs will become part of the modern folklore like the medium séances of the 19th century, and the ghostly horse-drawn coaches and cavaliers of the 18th century. However, other psi phenomena that would be more consistent with prevalent social conditions would replace UFOs.

These emergent properties shed a different light on the notion of decline, so central in the study of psi phenomena. In the experimental setting of parapsychology, there is a well-known phenomenon of decline where psi effects are strong at first, but then decline in statistical observations. In the case of parasociological spontaneous cases (like UFOs), it is actually the “experimenters” (i.e. the observational system) that declines. Although not a new idea[12], this issue of experimenters’ decline is an important one for understanding the macro-psi effects, and it deserves more research.

Methodological implications

The issues discussed above have a number of important methodological implications for the study of the 1966-1967 UFO wave. First, it is critical to identify which observation system is being involved in which sightings. The analysis has to distinguish between the public and private ones to understand the local dynamics at play. From that point of view, distinguishing between the American and Canadian public observational systems is meaningful, and makes the analysis more manageable by focussing on the smaller system (i.e., the Canadian one). Similarly, private observational systems were also emerging in Canada, and could also be distinguished and studied separately from the American one. In other words, it requires a layered analysis.

A second set of methodological implications is linked to the first one. Layered systems do not mean that the there is a deterministic top-down impact cascading at each level of the system. As von Lucadou stated, “entanglement can arise in situations in which global observables pertaining to a system as a whole are not commuting with certain local observables pertaining to parts of the system”[13]. In other words, the layered analysis should avoid any forms of reductionism. Lastly, the role played by the notions of conspiracy and the ETH at the onset of various sightings should be carefully evaluated as framing the initial psi effect. There are particular predictions linked to these two idiosyncrasies that can be made and must guide the analysis. Namely, it is to identify both the initial carrier and content of the pragmatic information, as well as the displacement role of these idiosyncrasies in the application of the MPI.


[1] Lucadou, Walter von et al. (2007). “Synchronistic phenomena as entanglement correlations in generalized quantum theory”. Journal of Consciousness Studies 14(4): 50-74, p. 60.

[2] Keel, John. “North America 1966: Development of a Great Wave”. Flying Saucer Review, Vol. 13, #2, Mar.-Apr. 1967.

[3] Hall, Richard. “1967: The Overlooked UFO Wave and The Colorado Project”, MUFON 1978 UFO Symposium Proceedings, pp. 51-74. [Available online at]

[4] Available online at

[5] Hynek, Allen. (1977). The Hynek UFO Report. New York: Dell, p. 264.

[6] Lucadou, Walter von et al. (2007), p. 64.

[7] See

[8] Spurgeon, David. (1967). “U of T aerospace institute plans full-scale study of UFOs”. The Globe and Mail (September 20), p. 1.

[9] Tennyson, Rod. (2009). “The UTIAS UFO Project”. The UTIAS Newsletter 2009(2): 3. [Available online at].

[10] See in particular, Moscovici, Serge. (1976). Social Influence and Social Change. London: Academic Press.

[11] For instance, the journal of the Canadian Aerial Phenomena Investigation Committee had a number of vitriolic editorials against “official secrecy”, as reported in Colombo, John. (1991). UFOs over Canada: personal accounts of sightings and close encounters. Toronto: Hounslow, pp. 84 and ff.

[12] Discussed by Einsenbud about Kirlian effects and thought-photography that shown very interesting results, but were abandoned by the experimenters before a decline effect occurred, in Eisenbud, Jule. (1983). Parapsychology and the Unconscious. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, pp. 111-129. As well, George Hansen in (2001). The Trickster and the Paranormal. Philadelphia: Xlibris, pp. 178-182, noted paranormal research organizations (including the UFO ones) tend to have an ephemeral life and this appears to be an integral part of the activation of the trickster archetype, believed to be directly linked to psi effects.

[13] Lucadou, Walter von et al. (2007), p. 52.

Eric Ouellet © 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Primer for the Canadian wave case study

As discussed in several previous posts, it is difficult to assess what constitutes a UFO wave. There are a number of methodological challenges linked to the very notion of UFO wave.

Reporting issues
One of the main challenges is that not all UFO sightings are reported, and there can be a number of reasons for that. The first one is that people can be afraid of being turned into ridicule. This fear, however, seems to be much less present in the 21st century as the UFO phenomenon is much more entrenched into the popular culture. The second reason is linked to the first one, and it is about the lost sensitivity about UFOs. A lot of people are rather indifferent to the phenomenon, and unless it is a very usual experience, many people will simply shrug off the sighting and say it is probably a plane (or something like that). A third reason is the unprofessionalism of a number of ufologists that over time really gave a bad name to the field, and many people prefer not to report rather than having to deal with someone that might be a bit too weird for their liking and might turn their UFO experience into a circus. A last issue is that the general public is probably better now at identifying aircrafts and satellites in sky than before, hence there are probably less incentive to pay closer attention to the sky.

On this last point, I had an instructive personal experience. I live in an area where there have been a number of sightings of triangular UFOs. I actually “saw” one a few weeks ago. It was a regular plane on a long landing path towards the international airport, but at night it looked like triangle at the angle I looked at it. Also, “it made no noise” (a famous “smoking gun” in the ETH world). Yet, anyone living not too far from a major airport knows very well that a plane does not have to be that far in the sky to not be audible (especially true for newer jetliners). Based on the prevalent wind patterns, my area is bound to have “triangular UFOs” on a recurrent basis. I can see that some people who are not used to aircrafts may be considering that it is a UFO, but in this day and age of skies having, literally, daily aircraft traffic jam, informal knowledge about aircraft is much more common compared to the situation in the 1950s and 1960s. But such knowledge is never perfect. We may be now in a reverse context, where there is a number of UFOs that are misconstrued as IFOs.

Limited investigative capabilities
A second challenge is that only a small percentage of UFO sightings are actually investigated. Here too there are some obvious reasons for this. Almost all investigations are now conducted by volunteers from UFO organizations and clubs, and they have very limited resources to go around investigating. So only a few are investigated. Then, there is the selection process to maximize the use of limited resources, oftentimes based on unconscious criteria. The usual criteria are: either “easy” cases (not requiring much time, money and travel), or cases which fits the basic assumptions underlying the ETH. Reporting bias in ufology is a long standing issue, and there is no improvement on the horizon.

A third and last challenge is the fragmentation of information. Given that there is no central repository for investigated UFO cases, then it is much more difficult to really assess if there is a UFO wave while it is occurring. It is usually much after the fact that the existence of a UFO wave can be identified by gathering data from multiple sources. The 1966-67 UFO wave is representative of this pattern.

UFO waves as social realities
The net result is that UFO waves tend to be identifiable in real time only when the phenomenon “insists” long enough around a given area to get the attention of the mass media. The 1973 wave in the United States, Belgian wave of 1989-90, and the 2008 mini wave in Pennsylvania are good examples of this process. Although there is a physical reality behind UFO waves, they are for all intent and purpose social realities. It is so simply because we can only notice them when there is a social process of mass communication occurring, which in turn shapes the very content of a UFO wave. The objective reality of UFO waves is not directly reachable. It can only be grasped through our socially shared subjective processes. Studying UFO waves is first and foremost a sociological task, but taking such an approach is not tantamount to say that it is all in the head of the witnesses.

Eric Ouellet © 2010