Saturday, September 27, 2008

UFOs as Psi phenomena

The Roswell story and associated issues like the Majestic-12 documents, as discussed in the previous post, caused a schism in ufology. One of the main impacts was a continental divide between European and North American ufology, the former remaining more heterogeneous in its approach while the latter became much more monolithic in espousing almost in a religious way the ETH. Most of the ufological literature dealing with the paranormal or psi aspects after the 19070s came from outside North America. Here are some noteworthy examples.

Outside North America

In France, Pierre Viéroudy continued to explore the links between UFOs and psi-phenomena, in publishing in the main French parapsychology journal. An historian of science emphasizing the history of parapsychology, François Favre, looked into early 20th research and how they can be useful to understand the UFO phenomena. Jean-Jacques Velasco, inspired by Jacques Vallée’s writing about UFOs as control systems, also wrote texts looking into the psi dimension of the UFO experience. For more information one can refer to:

Viéroudy, Pierre (1978) « Vagues d'Ovnis et psi collectif ». Revue de Parapsychologie N°6, juillet.

Viéroudy, Pierre (1978) « Les témoins d'Ovnis sont-ils des sujets psi ? » Revue de Parapsychologie N°6, juillet.

Favre, François (1978) “Caractère généraux des apparitions” Revue de Parapsychologie N°6, juillet.

Viéroudy, Pierre (1983) « Signification archétypique des apparitions OVNI ». Revue de Parapsychologie n° 15, août.

Velasco, Jean-Jacques (1991) « Ces OVNI qui nous entourent ». Revue française de psychotronique Vol. 4, No. 4.

Favre, François. (1993). « OVNI et psi ». Oniros

In Austria, Dr. Alex Keul developed the Anamnesis Protocol, designed to gather the parapsychological elements of UFO experience when interviewing witnesses. He eventually joined British researchers like Ken Phillips of BUFORA and analyzed data that were collected by using the Protocol. One of their main findings was that most UFO witnesses were people who had previous paranormal experiences. For a good overview of this project one can refer to:

Phillips, Ken (1993) “The psycho-sociology of ufology”, in D. Barclay et T. M. Barclay (Eds.) UFO: The Final Answer? London: Blandford, pp. 40-64.

Also from the United Kingdom, the concept of “Oz Factor” proposed by Jenny Randles, was used to look into the paranormal dimensions of the UFO experience. Randles introduced this idea in 1983 with her book UFO Reality. It is important to note however that her work remains eclectic in terms of topics and the types of hypothesis that she pursues. As well, her work should be considered more within the psychic research realm (implying the existence of non-human entities) than within parapsychology.

Finally, the Australian Journal of Parapsychology had a special issue on UFO, with interesting articles such as:

Basterfield, Keith and M.A. Thalbourne (2001) “Belief in, and Alleged Experience of, the Paranormal in Ostensible UFO Abductees” Australian Journal of Parapsychology 2(1): 2-18.

Harvey-Wilson, Simon (2001) “Shamanism and Alien Abductions: A Comparative Study”. Australian Journal of Parapsychology 1(2): 103-116.

Basterfield, Keith (2001) “Paranormal Aspects of the UFO Phenomenon: 1975-1999”. Australian Journal of Parapsychology 1(1): 30-55.

North American approaches

In North America, the main author in ufology that rejected the ETH remains Jacques Vallée. Although John Keel is also an important reference, and his books have been reprinted on numerous occasions, he did not published much on UFOs after the 1970s. However, his book The Mothman Prophecy was made into a motion picture (that did not show that it was an UFO investigation originally…). Both authors, offer more than one explanation for UFOs, but they are either about ultra-terrestrials or about control systems run by obscure forces within the government. Although the paranormal approach within ufology is now clearly less popular, the psychical approach to UFO is the one prevailing with this minority. The psi or parapsychological approach in North America is now barely present. It is also interesting to note that the US-based Parapsychological Association clearly state that it does not study UFOs. Given the prevalent ufological climate in United States, this position is understandable even if it is unfortunate. However, there a few notable exceptions that I found are:

Spanos, N.P. et al. (1993) "Close encounters: an examination of UFO experiences". Journal of Abnormal Psychology 102(4):624-32, who proposed conclusions similar to Keul in that experiencers of UFO sightings tend to have either previous paranormal experiences, or more open-minded towards the paranormal in general.

Martin Kottmeyer, who in article entitled “UFO Flaps” in The Anomalist 1995-1996 (no. 3, pp. 64-89) studied political and social conditions during UFO waves, and concluded that the loss of “national pride” seems associated with UFO waves.

Where to go from here

The above literature offers bits and pieces of material to develop the proposed research program on UFO waves. However, it is also clear that some conceptual work is also necessary as some key concepts, necessary to provide an analytical framework to empirical case studies, will have to be developed as well.

The first of such concepts, proposed or alluded to by several authors interested in UFOs and psi, is the one of collective unconscious. Carl Jung’s approach to the collective unconscious is a starting point, but all the authors seen so far also stated that Jung’s static view of the collective unconscious does not provide enough flexibility to understand the UFO phenomena. It needs to be revisited.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Friday, September 26, 2008

UFO as a paranormal phenomenon


UFO, unidentified flying object, is used now to refer to sightings of aerial phenomena that remain unexplainable. Some proposed to use instead “UAP” for Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, which is more neutral than UFO, as we do not know if we are dealing with objects. I prefer UAP over UFO, but the expression UFO is so entrenched in daily usage that it is easier to keep it.

Based on the research done by the US Air Force with the Project Blue Book, as well as other ufological research using a different set of cases, it is now accepted that about 80% of UFO sightings are actually explainable by either known natural or human causes. Another 15% cannot be explained because there is not enough data to make a proper assessment. This leaves about 5% of cases which are truly unexplainable. These statistics are not accurate simply because it is impossible to know if all sightings of UFO s are reported (and this appears very unlikely). So, these statistics are not to be used as “scientific law” but rather as a rule-of-thumb. UFO, here, refer to sightings that belongs to that last 5%, but that occur in groupings called wave.

A wave, here, is defined as several unexplainable UFO sightings occurring over the same particular territory, and over a limited time period. The key, however, to identify a wave is the social intensity of the sightings: UFO sightings are noted and discussed publicly. Hence, our definition of UFO wave is one that considers it as a social object. Otherwise, there is no parasociological analysis possible.

Paranormal and parapsychological hypotheses

The idea that UFOs are a phenomenon better understood as a paranormal or parapsychiological reality is not new. Here are some of the key texts and statements useful to understand the genesis of this approach.

One of the first to suggest this idea was Carl Jung in his famous book Flying Saucers: A modern myth of things seen in the skies, published in German in 1958 and translated in English in 1959. Jung saw the UFO phenomenon from the lenses of social psychology, in that UFOs are expressions of archetypes deeply engrained in the human brain. But he did not deny that some UFOs might be more than misperceptions, as they show signs of synchronistic behaviour, which in turn implies that they might constitute a psi phenomenon. Unfortunately, Jung’s thesis about UFO has been and remains too often misunderstood, as it is usually associated with the idea of popular rumours leading to individual misperceptions.

In 1966, a prominent American physicist, Dr. James McDonald, who was trying to get the issue of UFOs seriously studied by the scientific community, proposed that “UFOs might be
some type of unknown parapsychological phenomenon”. He was also dissatisfied with the hypothesis that UFO might be extraterrestrial crafts (a.k.a as the Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis or ETH). However, he had to backtrack from this proposal, as he was facing even strong opposition from the scientific community.

In 1969, however, the paranormal approach to UFOs got a serious boost with the publication of Passport to Magonia: From folklore to flying saucers by Dr. Jacques Vallée. Vallée, who had already established himself as a serious ufologist, studied a series of cases describing encounters with enchanted beings and compared them with modern cases of close encounters of the 3rd kind (i.e., meeting the occupants of UFOs). He found that there were many similarities between them, and hence suggested that UFOs might indeed be paranormal or parapsychological phenomena.

The following year, John Keel, a writer and investigator specialized in mysteries, published Operation Trojan Horse. Keel suggested that something paranormal or parapsychological was an integral part of the UFO experience, and that maybe aliens were “ultra-terrestrials” or trans-dimensional beings. His book, however, was not well received at the time. In 1975, he had more success with the publication of The Mothman Prophecies. In this book, Keel relates the story of his investigation of a UFO wave experienced by a small West Virginia town, and the paranormal events surrounding it. The events occurred before the main bridge of town collapsed, killing many people. The UFO wave ceased shortly thereafter. Although Keel is a more nuanced in this book about the origin of UFOs, it is clear for him the UFOs, and the other paranormal events were premonitions of the bridge tragedy.

The same year, Allan Hynek, who was since the 1950s the official UFO researcher of the US Air Force, admitted that UFOs cannot be understood without incorporating their paranormal or parapsychological dimension (Ian Ridpath. “Interview With J. Allen Hynek”. Nature, October 4, 1975, Vol. 251, p. 369). Also in 1975, Jerome Clark published with Loren Coleman The Unidentified, where he clearly espoused the paranormal thesis about UFOs. It is to be noted, however, that he subsequently changed his mind, and became a key promoter of the ETH.

In 1977, Pierre Viéroudy published in France Ces ovnis qui annoncent le surhomme. This book proposes one of the best syntheses of the research done so far about UFOs and parapsychology, where he links Jung’s archetype, anthropological and sociological observations, models and theories from scientific parapsychology, and ufological material. He even conducted empirical research where he “provoked” the creation of UFOs and took some pictures of them. His empirical research, however, was never successfully repeated.

Also in 1977, Fate Magazine organized an International UFO Symposium in Chicago. The proceedings were published in the form of a book in 1980. The conference brought many “big names” of ufology like Allan Hynek, Jacques Vallée, Stanton Friedman, Jerome Clark, Kenneth Arnold, Betty Hill, etc. Two plenary sessions were devoted to the psychic dimensions of the UFO experience. Many interesting ideas were put forward. For instance, Berthold Eric Schwartz, a psychiatrist, proposed that Jung was right and that more serious research needs to be done. Schwartz eventually delivered by publishing in 1983 UFO Dynamics: Psychiatric and psychic aspects of the UFO syndrome, where he proposed a well researched analysis of UFO experience, using parapsychology as his basis and cases from his own practice as psychotherapist. Schwartz also proposed that there might be parapsychological expressions of the social unconscious that acquire for a time some degree of independence. David Stupple, a sociologist, also present at the Symposium, proposed a similar idea about the possibility of a temporarily “freed” social unconscious. Although, he does not appear to have pursued this idea further.

In 1979, Thomas Bearden from the defence establishment, presented at a MUFON conference "A Mind/Brain/Matter Model Consistent with Quantum Physics and UFO Phenomena", also using the concept of collective unconcious. The idea of a social unconscious will be discussed later at length, as it is an important entry point for parasociology.

The 1970s was quite fertile for ufology, and shown a fair degree of open-mindedness. Some, like Brad Steiger in his book Project Blue Book (1976), were even predicting that ufology was about to move into a new phase, implying that the paranormal/parapsychological approaches would become prominent. Steiger was only half right. Ufology changed (at least in North America), but only to become more than ever fixated with the ETH and “nuts-and-bolts” approaches, and sinking into ludicrous conspiracy theories, thus preventing any meaningful dialogue between government research establishment and the ufological community. The Roswell affair, first coming to light in 1978 interview with Jessee Marcel conducted by Stanton Friedman, and by a book by Charles Berlitz, The Roswell Incident, published in 1980. This situation was reinforced by, yet again Stanton Friedman, and his discovery of the so-called MJ-12 documents in the 1980s.

The poor state of ufology in North America that would emerge after the 1970s, as reflected in Vallée's comments presented in a previous post, reflects the failure of North American ufologists to remain scientific (i.e., their working assumptions evolved into a belief system).

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Research Program: UFO waves

Some basic methodological considerations

A very wide-range of topics can be used to study how psi-related phenomena, but not all of them, are linked to social dynamics. Given the limited resources available to a single researcher like me, pragmatic choices have to be made to maximize the return on the time invested. The challenge here is that psi-related phenomena must be amenable to sociological analysis, and therefore must go beyond the individual in terms of the key unit of analysis. Again, most of the work in parapsychology, being a sub-discipline of psychology, has for its foundational unit of analysis the individual. Theoretical conclusions from parapsychology will be used, but most empirical data will not as the basic unit of analysis is different.

For instance, it is possible, in theory, to see telepathy as a social phenomenon, if one aggregates individual experiences and then look for collective patterns and dynamics. But from a pragmatic standpoint, it is very difficult to do. How can one have access to mass data about individual experiences of telepathy without being quickly overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of such task? Furthermore, most of the data available is essentially laboratory experiments from parapsychologists taken outside the normal social environment. The rest is anecdotal and therefore very hard to use in a systematic way. Yet, theoretical conclusions from parapsychology such as telepathy and other psi-related faculties seem to be based in unconscious processes is, indeed, very valuable to parasociology.

So, a sound research program in parasociology should be guided by specific criteria. The first one is data should be already collective in nature (e.g. about a society, or some specific sub-groups in a society). The second criterion is data be available from open sources, which is usually the case when dealing with social phenomena. A third criterion is that if parasociology looks at “how society is possible”, then it is easier to explore “abnormal” situations where social tensions emerge. This is a usual way of doing business in social sciences, simply because these situations can reveal how people are linked together when the bond is actually missing or weakened. (For instance, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, industrialization was causing enormous strains on Western societies, and this is how the “father” of modern sociology, Émile Durkheim, developed his classical sociological theory about the different forms of social solidarities). Hence, unusual paranormal events, given the assumptions and hypotheses described in the previous posts, should be signs that the social link is under tension. Otherwise, if specific paranormal events, at the social level, cannot be linked to specific social tensions, then parasociology cannot be tested.

UFO waves as case studies

Given the above criteria, it appears that UFO waves would constitute good cases for parasociology. UFO waves are by definition social phenomena, as they are noted and persistent observations of UFOs by a wide array of people. UFO waves eventually become public through mass media and other forms of open source information. Historically, there have been several UFO waves, for which there is a fair amount of information available from open source. Lastly, it is event-based, as it is possible to estimate a start and an end date, even if those dates maybe not 100% free of debate. Hence it is possible to at least attempt to correlate a specific UFO wave with specific social tensions in a specific society. In other words, UFO waves are testable from the point of view of parasociology.

Another important factor is that with the analysis of several historical UFO waves, it is possible to generate a list of social factors closely associated with UFO waves. These factors in turn can be developed into predictive factors to further test parasociology to assess under what conditions and when the next major UFO wave may occur. This additional possibility makes, at least theoretically, parasociology falsifiable, a major criterion for positivist science. Dialogue with positivist scientific communities is therefore possible.

Why not ufology instead of parasociology?

One may wonder, if the starting research program of parasociology is UFO waves, then why not simply embrace ufology? This is a good question. The short answer, however, is that ufology and parasociology have different approaches. Ufology tries to discover and prove what UFOs are, and so far has failed to do so. Parasociology tries to discover social paranormal linkages and prove how they work. In the case of parasociology, UFOs are just one expression of such linkages; one among others. Yet, if parasociology succeeds then ufology will have more to say than before. In other words, parasociology is more promising than ufology.

There are also other reasons to not pursue UFO waves from a ufological perspective. The main one is that establishing any dialogue with ufologists, particularly in North America, without first fully espousing the “nuts-and-bolts” approach to UFOs is almost impossible. Jacques Vallée described very eloquently the situation in a 2006 interview with the online magazine SUB ROSA, when answering the following question:

“SUB ROSA: What are your thoughts on the state of ufology in 2006?

Jacques Vallée: It’s a mess. There is valuable research going on, but it is carried out by individuals working with almost no financial or logistical resources. The few scientists who are still actively involved are forming a new version of the old “Invisible College,” communicating privately to stay away from the sensationalism that has taken over the field. As for what remains of the organized groups, they are not playing the role of disseminating information, conducting field research or encouraging critique and open debate. They are little more than lobbies for a particular point of view. This is a pity, because periods of low UFO activity like the current one present the best opportunity to do quiet research. By centering the whole discussion of the phenomenon on highly-charged, but poorly-researched issues like Roswell and abductions, ufologists have lost credibility, alienated the scientific public and opened the floodgates to hundreds of Internet sites where the wildest rumors circulate. No wonder serious researchers are going underground!”

That is said, quality research done by ufologists will be integrated to the parasociology research program, as some of it attempts to understand the paranormal and parapsychological dimensions of UFOs, as well as their social ones. The wheel will not be reinvented, as much as it is possible. But crooked wheels and flat tires will be discarded without hesitation. The quality material from ufology will be the object of an ongoing literature review. The first instalment will be provided as part of the next few posts, and any new discovery on my part, will be posted in the form of book or article review.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Paranormal or Psi?

In my previous post, I have used the words “paranormal” and “psi” interchangeably to ease the presentation of parasociology. However, it is now time to provide some clarifications. In the context of parasociology, the word paranormal is used as a descriptor for those phenomena that are outside the norm, and that defy conventional explanations, such as UFO, ghosts, telepathy, etc. The word “psi” is used in the same way as it is used in parapsychology, i.e. it describes a human faculty that is at the origin of paranormal phenomena.

Psi instead of psychic phenomena

This above statement leads to a second core hypothesis of parasociology, and constitutes by the same token a key ontological assumption: paranormal phenomena are objective products of the human mind. From this stand point, although studies done under the auspices of psychical research may yield interesting results, the assumption that some paranormal phenomena are the product of non-human entities (e.g., aliens, ghosts, demons, etc.) is not retained. Hence, parasociology formally builds on parapsychology, as it shares the same ontological assumption. Many would argue here that research requires to keep an open mind and to let facts speak for themselves. This is a simplistic and inaccurate view of scientific work.
Keeping an open mind: what does it mean?

If one really wants to keep an open mind as implied by many, then he or she has to take into consideration the entire universe while researching. For instance, if one studies an alleged UFO landing, then he or she has to take into consideration what is the preferred meal of the witness, what the mayor of his/her hometown did that day, what was the name of his/her first girlfriend/boyfriend, etc, etc. Obviously, this does not make any sense. Why? Because people take only into consideration what they think of as “relevant” facts, otherwise it would lead simply unmanageable research. Any research actually keeps only a tiny amount of facts from that standpoint. The key questions are which facts are kept and which ones are discarded, and more importantly why? Real research requires that key assumptions are made very explicit and transparent so that others know how and why certain facts are included and excluded. The assumptions may turn out to be wrong, but because they were explicit from the onset it is possible to go back and find out where is the problem.

The other issue is that facts don’t speak for themselves. Facts are constructions that attempt to make sense of our surroundings. How they are constructed has also a lot of impact on “what they say and don’t say”. This is because when facts are collected, to be facts, one has to define what he or she is collecting. For instance, it is well-known that many ufologists collecting facts on a sighting (i.e. interviewing witnesses) tend to not take into consideration elements of the testimony that give the impression that the “craft” was not all that solid. Hence, the facts collected are overwhelmingly about “solid crafts”, and surprise-surprise, the same ufologists let the facts say that indeed UFOs are solid objects. Such ufologists cannot claim they were open-minded. They should rather say that they are pursuing the so-called “extra-terrestrial hypothesis,” and for now exclude any other facts. This way of doing research provides to others the possibility of understanding where you are coming from, where you are going, and how you plan to get there. By doing so, by being transparent, one opens himself/herself to constructive criticism and therefore can improve his/her work. This is what having an open mind is all about. To keep an open mind, therefore, is to take one’s assumptions for what they are: tools to help us to distinguish between the “noise” and the “signal”, and accept that these tools are imperfect and may require change or tune up along the way. What is to avoid is take assumptions for beliefs. Beliefs is for believers and people engaged in religious or spiritual endeavours, not for scientific research.

Why parapsychology and not psychical research approach?

Modern parapsychology has a large body of quality research already available on the paranormal and the research is continuing. There is no point to reinvent the wheel with the limited resources that a researcher like me can put on parasociology. The choice is essentially a pragmatic one.

The psychical approach is not retained for reasons that are more epistemological in nature. As stated above, studies in psychical research have provided useful studies, but the interpretations and conclusions they contain are not kept if they imply that paranormal phenomena are the product of non-human entities. The reason being that such assumption makes scientific research impossible. Sociology, and therefore parasociology, are possible because we can study human beings. They can be studied in an experimental way, by creating conditions similar to laboratory where variables can be more or less controlled. More often, however, human beings are studied in situ, i.e. in their normal environment. To do so, a good dose of interpretation is required to understand why communities and societies are behaving the way they do. It can be done because the researcher as human being too is able to understand other human being, and is able to engage in a dialogue with humans. This second approach, less known to people who never studied social sciences, is actually the most common one and it is well established. For more, one can look to the classical analysis of Max Weber on interpretative understanding, Berger and Luckmann’s famous book on the social construction of reality, Goffman’s studies in symbolic interactionism, or Habermas’ work on communication (to name a few).

If one is studying non-human entities that appear to call the shots as to when and how they manifest themselves, then it is impossible to study such phenomena. The experiment is not possible given their capacity to avoid human if they want to. As well, given that they are not human they constitute true otherness, and therefore their motivations and intents are simply incomprehensible, and thus prevent meaningful in situ research.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What is parasociology?

Short explanation: Parasociology is a new branch of sociology dedicated to the study of how societies and paranormal or “psi” phenomena interact. In other words, parasociology is to sociology what parapsychology is to psychology.

Full explanation: To understand what parasociology is, it is important to explain first what sociology is, and how this discipline has studied the paranormal so far.

Sociology 101
Sociology is the mother discipline of all social sciences. Its original focus was to explain how societies are possible, and how can we live together in large and complex groups? It is no surprise that sociology emerged during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. Western societies were becoming rapidly and increasingly complex and urbanized, causing major changes such as less people involved in agriculture and more involved in industrial waged labor; rapid demographic growth and its associate pressures on public infrastructures; creation of a large business owners class and labor unions to defend the interest of industrial workers; a lesser role for religion, etc.

The first sociologists, such as Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, looked into how the new industrial society was able to continue existing in spite of major social changes. They emphasize different aspects: Marx focused on the dynamics of social class conflicts; Durkheim emphasized the evolving role of social institutions such as religion; while Weber looked into how shared understanding and acceptance of cultural patterns (such as working for bureaucratic organizations) contribute to maintaining societies together.

Over time, sociology became more specialized. A series of sub-disciplines emerged to provide a more detailed account of how narrowly defined social phenomena play their part in making society possible, such as sociology of the family, sociology of the professions, political sociology, sociology of science, sociology of gender, sociology of religions, etc.

Starting with the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, sociology took what many called a “critical turn.” For many sociologists, the discipline was not only there to understand social phenomena, but also to change society by uncovering and denouncing unfair social patterns such as colonialist attitudes, sexism, racism, etc. In many ways, sociology has been effective, as Western societies became more aware of these injustices, and implemented measures to address them such as maternity leave programs for women protecting their job, zero-tolerance programs against racism in school, etc.

Sociology, however, has become victim of its own success. Most social injustices are now well-known and well-researched, and at least partly addressed through various public welfare programs. Hence, many sociologists are now digging for increasingly minute issues and injustices that are quite irrelevant for the majority of the population such as alternate sexuality, radical eco-feminism, economic disparity among trans-gendered communities, etc.

ParasociologyParasociology, first of all, breaks away from sociology’s increasing social irrelevance by going back to its fundamental question: what makes society possible? One may ask what this has to do with the paranormal? Well, paranormal phenomena have been described and discussed in one form or another as far as written records go back in time. They might have been described under other names such as magic, shamanism, miracles, etc. But they are a permanent fixture of human societies. Then, it is not irrational to think that the paranormal may have something to do with making society possible.

Early sociologists and anthropologists, like Marcel Mauss and Herbert Spencer, noticed the important role that magic and religion play in human societies. They extensively studied magical practices in so-called primitive societies (primitive to be understood here as “primal”, i.e., structured like the first human societies in history). But their main focus was the belief in magic and how such belief plays a role in structuring social interactions (e.g., the social role of the shaman in a tribe). This approach to the paranormal was extended later on to the study of Western societies through researches on beliefs in UFOs, ghosts, etc. Sociologists doing this type of research are usually considered as belonging to the sub-disciplines of sociology of religion, and sociology of knowledge and science (when it focuses on the belief in “pseudo-sciences” such as ufology, psychic research, etc). Sociologists conducting this type of research, with very few exceptions, tend to be either uncommitted about the existence of paranormal phenomena or reject them outright as superstitions.

Although the study of beliefs in the paranormal has its own merit, and it is likely that paranormal phenomena cannot have an objective reality without first having people subjectively believing in them, but let’s be absolutely clear here, parasociology is NOT primarily about studying the belief in the paranormal. Instead, parasociology takes note of the substantial amount of work done in parapsychology. Like parapsychologist Dean Radin has shown in his recent books, paranormal phenomena do exist beyond any reasonable doubt. Thus, we are now beyond the point of trying to prove their existence. It is now time to understand how they work. This constitutes a fundamental distinction with previous sociological works on the paranormal.

If parasociology builds on parapsychology, it is also different from it. Parapsychology, being a sub-discipline of psychology, emphasizes the individual dimension of paranormal experiences. The collective or social dimension remains largely unstudied with a few exceptions. The most notable of these exceptions are parapsychological research projects like Global Consciousness, and those who propose a new understanding of Carl Jung’s concept of collective unconscious. In this last case, the concept of collective unconscious (which has the same origins as Durkheim’s conept of collectiove consciousness) is construed as going beyond supposing that we share, as individuals, “hard wired” archetypes, and accepts that the collective unconscious is much dynamic and actively interacting with the social environment.

Inspired by these researches in parapsychology that highlight the possibility of a social “psi”, parasociology, then, posits as its central hypothesis that paranormal or “psi” phenomena are observable outcomes of one of the social “glues” that make society possible.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet