Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Model to Study Poltergeists and UFO waves

Walter von Lucadou, a physicist and psychologist based in Germany, is one of the most prominent parapsychologist in Europe. He is also the director of the government-funded Parapsychological Counselling Office at Freiburg (Germany). He studied extensively poltergeist phenomena or Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho-Kinetic (RSPK) to use the parapsychological term. Out of his research on RSPK, he developed an original model to study psi effects, that he calls the “Model of Pragmatic Information” (MPI). This model may be useful to study UFO waves as well.

Von Lucadou’s MPI

Von Lucadou defines psi as “non-local correlations in psycho-physical systems.” He adds that “such non-local correlations, however, limit the psi-effects due to the conditions of the psycho-physical system, which mainly described by the ‘meaning’ of the situation i.e. pragmatic information.”

Let’s look at the various elements of this definition. The idea of a “system” is important here. What this means is that a psi effect is construed as a “black box” (von Lucadou sometimes uses the expression “organizationally closed system”). Such system cannot be understood from the inside, but can be understood as an input/output process. The limits of the black box are set according the meaning of the situation. Meaning, here, is understood as the meaning for the psi-subjects—how he or she understands his/her own situation. This is the part of the system that he calls the endo-system (the inside part). This is an important element of his approach because it can explain the widely noticed fact that psi-effects appear more common among people who truly believe in the paranormal. Hence, for Lucadou, the size or intensity of a psi effect is not linked to some sort of force, but rather in the capacity to believe. From that point of view, it is a model partly based on psychology.

He also uses the word “non-locality,” which is an import from quantum physics to describe events that are related but without direct cause-and-effect process. Here is a description of what it means:

NONLOCAL CORRELATION be two particles is demonstrated in the Franson experiment which sends two photons to separate but identical interferometer. Each photon may take a short route or a longer 'detour' at the first beam splitter. They may leave through the upper or lower exit ports. A detector looks at the photons leaving the upper exit ports. Before entering its interferometer, neither photon knows which way it will go. After leaving, each knows instantly and non-locally what its twin has done and so behaves accordingly.”

This issue is also important because if there are non-local correlations in the case of psi, then the laws of physics are not violated. This is something not easy to understand for non-physicists like me. But it can be described as follow. In quantum physics, it has been accepted for quite a while that energy and matter are simply two forms of the same thing and it is well expressed by Einstein’s famous formula E=mc2, where there is an equality between energy and mass. Physicists are now adding a third element: information. For instance, energy and matter are organized into movement in a direction, or as a specific molecular structure, respectively, and this is information. Like in the Franson experiment described above, the photons “know” how to recollect after going through the interferometer. Somehow, the information was carried through without a direct cause-and-effect.

Psi is understood here as correlating information non-locally (without direct cause-and-effect), between what’s going on in the head of a psi subject (at the unconscious level) and something else. The something else could be another person thought processes (i.e., telepathy) or the energetic information of an object (i.e. psycho-kinetic effects). Von Lucadou, also borrows from quantum physics the idea that the exact location of a particle cannot be known (the Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty), and Lucadou extends it to the psi correlation of information. This explains why he approaches psi as a “black box,” as explained above. So, psi can be understood as a measurable (or pragmatic) re-alignment of information without having a direct cause-and-effect like verbal communication between individuals or the application of physical force to move an object. This approach also allows a unified perspective on psi, as Extra Sensorial Perceptions (ESP) and Psycho-Kinetic (PK) effects are essentially different applications of the same fundamental process.

The role of time and the social environment in the intensity of a psi effect

Von Lucadou’s MPI, emphasizes the importance of the psi subject’s own perception of reality. One of the particular dynamics noticed about poltergeists or RSPK, is that there is a crescendo. The external part of the system, or what he calls the exo-system, plays a critical role by interacting with the endo-system. The elements of the exo-system are the visible ones, and include the people immediately around the psi subject (the Environment). By their reaction, they “feed” the psi-phenomena as they reinforce the psi subject’s belief in ghostly activity. The belief is further reinforced by the arrival of what he calls the Naive Observers (psychics, ghostbusters, exorcist priests, and other ghost believers). The next layer of the exo-system is made of Critical Observers who do not believe in the paranormal (the neighbours, the police, the therapists, etc.), who create doubts in the mind of the psi subject and his/her environment. This leads to a reduction of RSPK activity. The last layer of the exo-system is society in general, which judges harshly any belief in the paranormal (i.e. when the unscrupulous journalists arrive, and other unwanted curious), then the phenomenon tend to disappear.

From von Lucadou, Walter and F. Zahradnik. (2004). “Predictions of the Model of Pragmatic Information about RSPK”. Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association Convention 2004, p. 102.

This model explains the elusiveness of psi phenomena, a well documented aspect of psi, as the naive belief is a critical part of it. This explains also why when there is a sceptic around the phenomenon does not manifest itself. Lastly, this can explain why a phenomenon oftentimes will occur to sympathetic researchers only when the recording equipment is being put away; the psi subject is no more under the psychological pressure of “proving” something (which is the equivalent of the performance pressure felt by mediums in the days of psychic research). Lucadou proposes, therefore, that a “system can only behave as it pleases as long as one does not observe it with great care.” (Lucadou 2004, 106). In other words, the less focussed on explaining is a system (which includes people, as well as recording equipment) the more likely a psi phenomenon can occur. This is because by explaining the system there is a clear transfer of mental resources from the unconscious to the conscious and a permanent shift from the naive to the sophisticated outlook at paranormal phenomena.

To express these points above, Lucadou proposes a formula with the following elements:

I: pragmatic information (i.e. the psi effect)
E: the novelty of an observation
B: the confirmation of an observation
A: autonomy of the RSPK system
R: the reliability of the observation

The formula is as such: R * A = B * E = B’ * E’ < I

“R * A” means that reliability of an observation (i.e., I keep seeing things) is function of how much the RSPK can be autonomous (i.e., how much people remain naive and essentially passive about the phenomenon). So, the more naive people are about the phenomena the longer it will last.

“B * E” means that the confirmation (i.e, indeed, I saw something) is function of the novelty (i.e., unexpected, weird, out of the usual). The weirder a phenomenon is the more its existence will be accepted by the observers.

B’ * E’ is the same as above, except that it covers the reinforcing influence of others (Naive Observers) or the counter-influence from the Critical Observers and Society.

A = B means that the more a phenomenon is confirmed (in the mind of psi subject and his/her environment) the more the system will be autonomous (reinforce naive belief), and vice versa.

E = B’ means that the feeling novelty (degree of weirdness) is linked directly to other people’s confirmation of the phenomenon.

Hence there is a series of self-reinforcing dynamics, but as soon as the dynamics is injected with disbelief, then the dynamics becomes self-destructive of the phenomenon.

Based on the above, von Lucadou proposes a predictive model for RSPK, with four distinct phases. The first one is the “Surprise”. Essentially the phenomenon erupts; the unconscious mind of the focus person takes the means to be heard. As the immediate environment gets worried, and as the phenomena is “fed” by the naive observers (i.e. who believe in ghosts) the phenomenon increases in intensity. The surprise phase is therefore a self-reinforcing cycle.

The second phase is called “Displacement.” This occurs when external critical actors get involved in the fray and induce doubts in the mind of the naive observers and the envirronment. The critical observers can be journalists, parapsychologists, or even the police. At this point, the phenomenon starts to lose intensity. As well, the arrival of critical observers is oftentimes the occasion for the focus person to get noticed, and get his/her psychological needs acknowledged.

Then there is the “Decline” phase, where the critical observers want to document and verify the events. At this time, the focus person is no more in a mode of expressivity, but rather unconsciously in a performance pressure mode (confirmation becomes harder, thus reliability and autonomy of the system decrease, which lead also to a decline in novelty or weirdness). This phase leads to a further reduction of the effect.

Lastly, there is the “Suppression” phase, where the pressures from society “to be rational” start to be felt, and lead to suppression and denial about the events. Concretely, this happens when people in the neighbourhood or in the newspapers present the events as being ridicule. Then, society essentially stops to discuss what happened altogether. By that time, the RSPK has ended.

Difficulties with the MPI

The MPI, however, is not without problems. One of the critics is that if we start with the “black box” assumption, then we basically give up upon understanding the fundamental dynamics of psi. Others argue that symbolism found in psi events, and information gathered by psychoanalysis, are at very least windows allowing one to look inside the black box. Along the same train of thought, giving up the inside of the black box also denies the possibility of understanding why RSPK (or psi effect in general) occur in relatively rare instances while it does not in many other similar circumstances. A true predictive model should be able identify, at a minimum, the key conditions necessary for a RSPK to occur in the first place. The MPI does not provide that.

Application to UFO waves

The MPI can be useful to describe the timeline of a UFO wave, and if it is successful in doing so, it can provide some serious arguments for my basic assumption that UFO waves are psi phenomena. But it will not help to identify when or where a UFO wave will start.

If I use the Buck County wave (based on the elements provided in my last post), the following analysis can be put forward:

The people of the grassroots movement that were defeated in stopping the nuclear industry may collectively constitute the Focus Persons. They have been ignored for quite a while. They probably still harbour hard feelings, but as nuclear energy is no more on the top of the agenda, these feelings are suppressed.

The Surprise phase starts with a number of strange sightings in the sky by people living in the Buck County (the Environment). The message is not heard, nor understood, and the sightings continue to increase. Then MUFON gets involved (Naive Observers) and takes note of the sightings; people talk informally about the sightings, and the word starts to spread; the sightings increases.

The Displacement phase starts when the information about the sightings reaches the local news media (Critical Observers). This was in July. Then there is a sharp decline in sightings. As well, there was an announcement that radio-active waste will not be put in a Buck County landfill for now, around the same time in July (the Focus Persons were heard).

Then the Decline phase starts around August when the ufologists are now engaged into looking in what is going on in the Buck County. The elusiveness of the phenomena shows itself again by having sightings outside the Buck County (the unconscious pressure to perform is there, now that the UFOs in the Buck County are public news). The phenomenon continues at a reduce rate but remains resilient because the nuclear industry gets involve again with the August announcement. Hence, by combining new worries and the elusiveness dynamics, novelty is temporarily increased by sightings outside the Buck County, to include a sighting during an Obama rally and maybe a CE3 in Northern Pennsylvania. This time the news really reaches out the wider American society, and the harsh comments can be read on the News website where the pictures and film of the 4 October sightings are posted. But the Focus Persons now got really heard by the New York Times (NYT) report on the presidential candidates’ position on nuclear energy (one can expect that the focus persons are more on the Liberal side of politics and therefore many of them are likely to read the (NYT), as well New York City is not that far from the Buck County). Their unconscious fear is now conscious: both candidates will not oppose strongly the nuclear industry; their hope that Obama will do things differently is gone in spite of “trying to get his attention” during a rally in Philadelphia. (I suspect most of the Focus Persons tend to be overwhelmingly Democrats given their views being more on the left-wing side).

We are now in the Suppression phase. There are no new sightings in the region. The Buck County wave is forgotten as the elections are quickly approaching, and ufologists are focussing on their next target.

The above analysis is a bit speculative as it is difficult to fully assess the mood of the people who were engaged in the anti-nuclear grassroots movement (i.e., the focus persons). I had to build in some plausible assumptions.

The key, however, to fully show the explanatory power of the MPI would be to prove that a number of specific individuals, who were part of the Focus Persons (i.e., former members of the anti-nuclear grassroots movement), were also watching the sky and believing strongly that UFOs are extra-terrestrials in their spacecraft getting involved in human affairs. For instance, if it can be shown that the membership of the Focus Persons has an overlap between the grassroots movement and some sort New Age network with a strong UFO flavour, then parasociology is in business.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Friday, October 24, 2008

Empirically Assessing the Collective Unconscious

Understanding the role of the collective unconscious is becoming critical to develop parasociology. The integration of the collective unconscious into sociology is not a new idea, however. It is often referred to “depth sociology”, as it looks deeply into the human psyche in its collective dimension. In fact, I would even say that most of cultural sociology and cultural anthropology are essentially all about the collective unconscious.

How it has been used so far

I found an interesting article that shows the link that has been made between psychology and sociology, with respect to studying the collective unconscious. It is:
Staude, John Raphael. (1976). “From Depth Psychology to Depth Sociology: Freud, Jung, and Levi-Strauss.” Theory and Society 3(3): 303-338.

When I saw the name Claude Lévi-Strauss, I finally got it. Lévi-Strauss is a very famous French anthropologist who, in the 1940s and 1950s, developed the idea structural analysis. His famous book is Tristes Tropiques. The profound originality of Lévi-Strauss was that he saw in tribal myths elements that are universal, in spite of their very different appearance from one community to the other. Myths, according to Lévi-Strauss, share a fundamental narrative structure behind the actual story. Hence, the name structural analysis, as for him the main goal of anthropology is the analysis of myths and sagas.

His approach borrows from Freud the idea that the central human struggle is about balancing between one’s impulses and the requirements of having rules and prohibitions so that living in society is possible. Lévi-Strauss, without surprises, looks into social taboos to guide his structural analysis. Another element of the analogy with Freud’s approach is the idea that the unconscious expresses itself to maintain the balance through a variety of means, but particularly through night dreams. For Levi-Strauss, collective myths and sagas play the exact same role in society; they are societies’ dreams. Like the interpretation of dreams, the interpretation of myths to find the deep structures constitutes the privilege empirical mean to perceive and study the collective unconscious.

Levi-Strauss was not the first one to see the importance of myths and sagas. In fact, Durkheim the founder of sociology could be construed as being the first structuralist. For instance,

“Structuralism really started with Durkheim. In The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life he presented a symbolic conception of social reality: society is symbolically expressed in the individual in the form of religious beliefs and practices. Here he considered society as a system of active forces involved in and conditioned by the symbolizing process. Without symbols, the social sentiments would have a precarious existence at best; symbols were needed to anchor and give continuity to memories of social experience. He concluded that ‘social life in all its aspects and at all the moments of its history, is possible only thanks to a vast symbolism.’ Religion was, for Durkheim, ‘the system of symbols through which society acquires consciousness of itself.’ (Staude 1976, 323)

Lévi-Strauss, on the other hand, did not like very much Jung, but he borrowed a lot from him as well. In many ways the concepts of archetype and anthropological structure are essentially the same thing. So, when Jung looks at the phenomena of flying saucers, he sees first and foremost an archetype expressing itself through the modern myth of the flying saucers. Lévi-Strauss did not studied flying saucers or UFOs, but he would certainly see a myth expressing itself through a common structure. For instance, as discussed on the post about the 1896-1897 Airship wave, there are many mythical elements that can be found also in more recent waves (contactees, non-human entities, machine crashing and bodies recovered, meaningless conversations with “flying crew”, etc.). This type of cultural analysis is being done by the people publishing in the Magonia magazine. However, this does not resolve the question of the materiality of UFOs.

I think it is important to integrate mythological analysis into parasociology. This requires, however, a lot of work to do so as it is essentially qualitative research. That being said, one must also be aware that structuralist approaches have been severely criticized, starting in France after 1968, and elsewhere in the 1970s.

Between the 1970s and the end of 1990s, social theory was very much “bashing” structuralism. Many social theorists saw themselves as post-structuralist or postmodernist. The main critique was that the structures or archetypes are not as firm or universal as Lévi-Strauss or Jung assumed. Variations in the deep structures are rather the norm, and some even suggested that every human event is unique, and uniquely interpreted and internalized—in other words, there is no such thing as structures. Lastly, the critiques were also stating that the content of the structure, the visible elements of the collective unconscious, was essentially a projection of the sociologist, anthropologist, or psychologist. A famous one was Freud’s interpretation of women dreaming about cigars as unexpressed sexual desires. After a careful analysis of Freud’s psychoanalytic notes, it became clear that it was actually Freud who had sexual desires towards some of his own female patients and was unconsciously trying to lead them a certain way!

Yet again, starting with the early-1990s, a counter-critique of the post-structuralist, and especially of the postmodernists, took hold in the social sciences. The main argument was that if there is no such as structures, everything being unique and ephemeral, then society would not be possible, and ultimately a science of society (sociology) is not possible either. As societies still exist, and sociology can be at time useful, it is clear that the post-structuralists/postmodernists went overboard. In many ways the pendulum is now back into the middle. Structures do exist at the same time as the uniqueness of human events. In other words, at the most generic level structures are useful, but they are not enough to understand the collective unconscious: specific contents born of specific social events need to be understood also.

Parasociology also needs to integrate the post-structuralist criticism, and the counter-criticism. Concretely, this means that a UFO wave is a very generic form structural event, but its meaning and causes can only be found in the specificity of a community. The actual content of the symbols projected do matter. Symbols are not simply carriers of deeper but archtypical or structural issues; they are transformed by the symbolic content.

From an empirical perspective, the fundamental difficulty is therefore to identify the unconscious balancing act of a community around specific issues causing the need for the balancing act. In other words, how can one identify what matters for a community while the same community is not itself consciously aware of it? Looking for what is not being said is quite challenging.

However, I think it is possible narrow down the search by focussing on common social problems (environmental risks, poverty, extensive and persistent social problems, political violence, etc.) that are not discussed and are not part of a collectivity’s consciousness. This is the generic structural element. Marcel Mauss, one of the founders of anthropology also offers hints for such an approach:

“Whereas Durkheim confined himself to defining the symbolic character of social life, his nephew and collaborator Marcel Mauss suggested how the study of pathological symbolism (to which psychoanalysis had drawn attention) and social symbolism could be brought together. His basic idea was that the symbolization process is the same in both cases, and that it is possible to envisage a general theory of symbolism which would explain equally well the important elements of myths, rites, and beliefs in their efficacity, as well as of illusions, collective mystifications and delusions and their correctives.” (Staude 1976, 323)

An example, the 2008 Buck County UFO flap

Let’s use a concrete example to illustrate how these theoretical factors could translate methodologically.

The Flap
In July 2008, Buck County in Pennsylvania (north of Philadelphia) has experienced a UFO flap. MUFON reported over 50 UFO sightings in June and July 2008, and they were centralized on the Buck County. The Wave seemed to end its peak towards the end of July.

More sightings occurred in Pensylvania, before and after, to include a sighting of 4 UFOs in daylight on 4 October, photographed and filmed during an Obama rally in Philadelphia. The UFO scene in Pennsylvania seems quiet since.

Clearly, something is going on, and we have an event that would fit our definition of UFO wave, as it was socially noticed.

Buck’s County Collective Unconscious
The county had UFO sightings before, including during the October 1973 wave. Historical precedents are a useful indicator of a community inclined to believe in UFOs. However, it is a 35-year old event which may or may not reside in the collective memory.

The Buck County has a history of conflict with the nuclear industry, and environmental risks seem to be part of this community’s psyche. Particularly, the was a grassroots movement in the Buck County against changing the course of the Delaware River to cool nuclear reactors. The movement failed against the nuclear industry, being more organized and more influence on local politicians. Hard feelings certainly still exists in the Buck County. For more information:
Truchil, B. , 2004-08-14 "The Limitations of Spontaneous Grassroots Movements: The Case of the Bucks County Pump" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Hilton San Francisco & Renaissance Parc 55 Hotel, San Francisco, CA.

The fear of nuclear nuclear energy is also a well documented issue. For instance, Dr. Robert DuPont, a psychiatrist, who studied people’s fear of the nuclear after the Three Mile Island meltdown (which is located in Pennsylvania) was interviewed by PBS
He answered the following question:

Q: But with your experience watching the TV coverage of nuclear, were you stumbling on a mass pathology?

A: Well, of course, that led to all kinds of things after that. I went to visit a lot of the nuclear power plants around the country, especially those that were involved in controversy, and met with public groups, and spoke about it and wrote about it and got myself quite involved in the issue, between roughly 1980 and 1985. It was, is, a very big part of my life, as I just got involved in this mess of issues. And I was convinced that the psychology was a key part of what was going on; that the media played a role, and politics, especially anti-technology, anti-big activity kind of politics, often associated with the political left, was very much a part of this. But I didn't think any of that would happen without the psychology; that there had to be a fertile field on which this was growing. And I'm convinced that that fertile field is fear. It's the "what if" fear. It's the fear that something dreadful is going to happen, something that's nameless, something that is unfathomable, and that we really have to defend ourselves against this "what if" fear.

The key here is that kind of fear is about “something dreadful is going to happen,” which is reminiscent of Keel’s Mothman Prophecy narrative structure. The fear was certainly fed by at least one specific event, on 22 July 2008 “The operator of two Bucks County landfills says it is suspending plans to dump radioactive sludge from the Limerick Nuclear power plant until public concerns can be addressed.” The timing with the peak of the wave is interesting here.

As well, Excelon, the owner of the nuclear plants in Pennsylvania, made a series of low key announcement about building another plant north of the Buck County on 19 December 2007, 29 August 2008, and on 10 October 2008.

All this occurring while there was a low key rumour on the Internet that Barack Obama was on the payroll of Excelon.

Environmental issues, however, seemed to take a back seat in people’s mind in Pennsylvania. This is not surprising given the major financial disaster that emerged during the year around the sub-prime crisis. One poll in Pennsylvania show that the environment does not make the top five issue. Another one, among rural voters shows that the environment only concern 2% of the voters.

Without having a firm verdict, it is at least possible to think that fears about nuclear energy are real in the Buck County, but were on the backburner of people’s mind because of the financial crisis.

Psi effect
Psi effects are hard to measure, but one way is to look at it is to look for synchronicity. I found at least one set around the nexus Obama-Nuclear Industry. Obama was in Philadelphia on October 4th and there was a substantial UFO sighting at the time. Also, on October 4th, 2 hunters in Northern Pennsylvania see a “gree-glowing” (radio-active?) creature, which is reported on the Internet a few days later. Larry Rother of the New York Times published a report on where Obama and McCain stand in general with respect to the nuclear industry on October 9th. Excelon made a low key announcement on October 10th about moving ahead to the next step for building a new nuclear plant.

Narrative Structure
It is interesting to note that this narrative structure actually exist in a somewhat modern mythical form through the popular cartoon series “The Simpsons”. It is about ordinary people who are relatively powerless against the nuclear industry, and where nuclear pollution is green-glowing. The town “Springfield” is visited once in a while by UFOs and aliens.

What is missing?
This remains a relatively superficial analysis, but this very recent case seems to show that I am going in the right direction. But it is important to understand why some unconscious collective conflicts turn into UFO wave (or other paranormal phenomena like Big Foot rash of sightings), while in many other situation there is nothing. A closer look at the conditions leading to poltergeist, in parapsychology, is probably the first step.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The 1896-1897 Airship Wave – A mini case study

So far my posts dealt essentially with conceptual and theoretical issues. This time I would like to propose an empirical case study that integrates some of the concepts discussed previously.

The wave

The 1896-1897 wave seems to be one of the first reported waves of unidentified flying object. It occurred mostly in Western United States with a few sightings in Western Canada. It is a good case for establishing a wave because in those days there were no planes, or ongoing unverified sightings of UFOs. In essence, the sky was clean. As well, the key element to have a wave was also present: the possibility of sharing on broad basis information about sightings. Otherwise, disparate sightings could not have been construed as being part of a wider phenomenon. By the end of the 19th century, the telegraphic news network was global, with underwater transoceanic cable linking all continents. There was already international news agency distributing information worldwide through the telegraphic network, and lastly the fruits of mandatory elementary education in Western countries could be seen with relatively high literacy rates never seen before. Hence, the objective conditions to have a social object are met.

The first reported sighting was on 17 November 1896 in Sacramento, capital of California. Sacramento and San Francisco newspaper report the news the following day. It is interesting to note that the witnesses talked about moving lights in the night sky. Some of them mentioned seeing an elongated light. This links directly with the post on the materiality of UFOs.

The word “Airship” appears because one of the witnesses claims to have seen helixes in the back, and two men pedaling under the airship. On 22 and 25 November, other sightings of strange lights in sky are reported throughout California. Yet, as of 18 November the word Airship is used by newspapers and is quickly adopted. This phenomenon is very similar to what happened in 1947 when Kenneth Arnold talked about objects wobbling like a “flying saucer.” This links to my discussion about the mixture between subjective and objective elements as an integral part of the UFO phenomenon.

By the end of November, various stories very similar to contemporary UFO sightings start to emerge in the press. A Colonel Shaw said that he met non-human entities (close encounter of the 3rd kind). A man called Indio said that he stepped into a machine (trips in flying saucers). Other stories are about an inventor that will make a statement about his airship in the near future (misleading information). One statement particularly interesting was from the former Attorney-General for California, William Hart, who claimed to be in contact with the inventor, and that he will use it to bomb Havana and liberate Cuba (a Spanish colony then) (a contactee story?). Lastly, one can mention the story reported by the Dallas Morning News on 19 April 1897, stating that the body of a Martian was found and the corps was interred in a Freemason cemetery (UFO crash and ensuing cover-up by a conspiratorial organization!).

As one can see, some very familiar themes emerged during the wave. How much of these sightings can be attributed to genuine psi effect is hard to tell. However, a mixture of hoaxes and genuine psi effects is actually a common feature noted by parapsychologists when studying mediums. It is even possible to think that strange and out-of-character motivations for hoaxing could be an integral part of a psi effect, as it reinforces the belief in the strange phenomenon, which in turn increases the likelyhood of creating further psi effects. A symbiotic relationship between psi and hoaxes cannot be overlooked here.

Some have already looked into some psycho-social effects to explain the propagation of airship story and expanding hoax fashion that occurred after November 1896. As well, it is important to underline that ethics in journalism was not a big priority in those days, and that journalists were certainly important actors in expanding the “size” of the wave. Lastly, some authors proposed that “tubes” were seen in the sky, like Busby, Michael. (2004). Solving the 1897 Airship Mystery. Pelican Publishing.


If the wave was a physical expression of a social psi effect, then one look for a social symbolic meaning; what society’s collective unconscious was trying to express? Two leads could be followed here:
1- Time: what was happening at that time?
2- Geography: was there something particular about California at that time?

The timing of the wave is particularly interesting from a political standpoint. The November 1996 to April 1897 was actually the transition period for the new president-elect, McKinley, to get his affairs in order between the election in the 2nd week of November and the sworn in. (It is to be noted that the transition period was eventually moved to January later in the 20th century).

The issue of the day was a potential war against Spain. McKinley was personally against the war, as well as the religious voters who supported him. But the tension was mounting, as William Hart’s statement can attest. The famous journalist Joseph Pulitzer (from whom the famous literary award’s name is coming from), and William Hearst (inventor of Yellow journalism), among others, led an active campaign since 1895 to launch a military attack against Spain to liberate its colonies. The incident of the USS Maine, which blow-up, became the pretext for an American invasion of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. The rapid American conquest had a significant symbolic impact. The US was now really playing the great powers’ game. A major collective identity change happened. As noted in a previous post, shifting identity seems to play an important role in poltergeists. Hence, it appears that the time is socially significant.

The geographical dimension seems more subtle here. William Hearst, an important actor in the period that leads to the American-Spanish War, owned several newspapers, including one in California, the San Francisco Examiner. Interestingly, when the wave started, the San Francisco Examiner was one of the most sceptical about the wave. It is difficult to assess how much personal impact he had on the editorial line of the Examiner, but this in line with poltergeist phenomena where the conscious mind rejects the physical message produced by the unconscious mind. Self-denial is an important part of poltergeists.

Another criteria emerging from geography is the issue of who might be the central person. Where Californians more unconsciously worried about a potential war with Spain? This is very difficult to assess. However, it is interesting to note that Hearst had a life-long interest in airships. He personally ensured that his newspaper covered the Arctic trip of the airship Italia in 1928 (which ended in a tragedy). He also provided funding for the Graf Zepplin world tour in 1929. Without finding a “social” central person, it is at least possible to find one individual who had a number of attributes of a central person, key to understand poltergeists.

Could a single individual be behind a UFO wave? Or could it be that a single individual can give the tone to social psi events? These questions cannot be answered at this time, but it opens new perspectives on our understanding of the collective unconscious.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

UFO Waves and Collective Unconscious

As discussed in several previous posts, one of the keys to link parapsychology to sociology is the concept of collective unconscious. It is a key because the genesis of psi effects is in the unconscious mind, according to parapsychologists. The question is therefore: is there an equivalent at the collective level? Two of the founders of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, developed a number of ideas about what they call the collective unconscious. Their respective views are very much in line with how then regard the individual unconscious.

Freud and the dark side of the unconscious

For Freud, the unconscious is the place where all the frustrations are stored as an individual learns to live within the rules of his/her society. The unconscious is not a nice place. At the collective level, if one follows Freud, the collective unconscious is where bad stuff emerges. The rise of Nazi Germany was oftentimes interpreted as this irrational projection of collective frustrations towards others. I my opinion Freud holds the key on the scary part of paranormal events. More on this later. For a quick overview of Freud’s ideas on the issue of collective unconscious please refer to this exhibit website.

Jung, non-locality, and synchronicity

Carl Jung, on the other hand, had a broader understanding of the unconscious. For him, everything that was not in the domain of the conscious was in the unconscious, good and bad. Jung, however, was also very interested in studying paranormal phenomena, and he was the first to see a link between the unconscious mind and the psi effects (although he did not used the word psi). For him, the existence of paranormal events had to be explained by something greater than simply individual’s unconscious mind. It is in this context that he developed the idea of the collective unconscious where individual minds are connected to one another. This connection was done through fundamental archetypes (symbolized thought-forms) that are supposedly hard wired in the human brain. This idea of universally shared archetypes (and he did extensive research to find them in Eastern and Western esoterica) was also coupled with research in quantum physics and the idea of non-locality (in quantum physics it is accepted that related simultaneous events can occur without having a cause-and-effect to explain them), through his work with physicist Wolfgang Pauli. In this context, Jung saw the possibility to have meaning full conjunctions of events that have no direct cause-and-effect, which he called synchronicity. For him, synchronicity could provide an explanation for telepathy, but also for clairvoyance and premonition. For Jung, the unconscious mind is to be understood within the realm of emotions, which do not know time limitations (i.e., a feeling is something that remains in spite of time – people forget, or redefine experiences, but feelings do not change when they are brought back to consciousness – anyone who had a traumatic experience can confirm that). The possibility that also feelings transcend materiality was proposed by Jung to explain psychokinetic effects as well. Following the same logic, for Jung hauntings were therefore synchronistic events where subjective elements are mixed with objective effects out of the unconscious. In other words, when there are too many synchronistic events, which source can be either natural or psi-related (like the wind opening a door, while there is an electrical short-circuits), they constitute a larger meaningful event without having internal direct cause-and-effect relationships. For Jung, it is what we call haunting, but it does not imply the involvement of non-human entities.

The best source on this is: Main, Roderick. (1997). Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jung and UFOs

Given Jung’s interest in the paranormal, it is no surprise that he also wrote about UFOs. This can be found in his famous book: Flying Saucers: A modern myth of things seen in the sky. Jung remained faithful to his approach and saw in UFOs an archetypical symbol that was made more modern through a “rumour” alleging that UFOs might be spaceships. He did not exclude the possibility that UFOs could be a collective hallucination that had a degree of objectivity through some sort psi process (very much in the same way he understood hauntings). However, he was more at pain to explain the physical dimension of the phenomena. Jung wrote in Flying Saucers (1978 edition) that an

“[...] alternative hypothesis [to anti-gravity] that Ufos are something psychic that is endow with certain physical properties seems less probable, for where should such a thing come from? If weightlessness is a hard proposition to swallow, then the notion of a materialized psychism opens a bottomless void under our feet. Parapsychology is, of course, acquainted with the fact of materialization. But this phenomenon depends on the presence of one or more mediums who exude a weighable substance, and it occur only in their immediate vicinity. The psyche can move the body, but only inside the living organism. That something psychic, possessing material qualities and with a high charge of energy, could appear by itself high in the air at a great distance from any human mediums—this surpasses our comprehension.” (p. 110).

I think Jung was on the right track for the most part, but given the way he construed the collective unconscious he could not think beyond the level ofthe individual (clearly seen here by focussing on individual mediums). Jung was a psychologist and it is no surprise that he focussed on the individual. His construction of the collective is reductionist as it brings back the entire concept to the individual. What is needed here is to rethink the collective unconscious as a collective level or sociological concept, without being reductionist.

A sociological understanding of the collective unconscious

Jung was criticized also for reducing to an almost biological level the content of archetypes. The notion that somehow specific content is hard wired in the human brain remains to be proven, and as far as we understand human behaviour, biological reductionism does not hold water very well. I think that it is possible to develop an understanding of somewhat predictable patterns for the unconscious (I would not use scientific law here as it is too strong), while what is populating the unconscious could be kept open and dynamic.

One of the first steps to conceptualize the collective unconscious in a sociological way is to go back to the roots of the concept. For this, I use an interesting article, where one can find the sources of what I discuss below. Greenwood, Susan F. (1990). “Émile Durkheim and C.G. Jung: Structuring a transpersonal sociology of religion.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29(4): 482-495.

Interestingly, Jung’s collective unconscious and the founder of sociology’s (Durkheim) concept of collective consciousness have actually the same origin. For instance, Durkheim used the concept of collective representations to investigate the content of collective consciousness. He borrowed this concept from the French anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857-1939). Jung acknowledged that his concept of archetype and Lévy-Bruhl’s concept of collective representation are the same thing. This means that conceptually collective representations are pathways for both the collective consciousness and unconscious. This was implicitly noted by many sociologists, as Durkheim’s concept of collective consciousness, when used in its French original version “conscience collective” creates an ambiguity that he found useful. The word “conscience” in French can mean either consciousness or conscience in English. As Durkheim voluntarily kept the idea of conscience as part of his concept, this leaves the door open to the possibility of an unconscious collective mind as well.

From Greenwood’s article (p. 488), here is some explanation about both concepts:

While for Jung, (p. 489),

Another quote shows how much Durkheim and Jung have in common. But I would to highlight that a sociological unconscious, as Durkheim noted, is a “partially autonomous reality” that is feeds through a “multitude of minds.”

Hence, if we give a Durkheimian turn to Jung’s concept, then collective representations and symbols that open the doors to the collective unconscious may have a long duration across generations, but they do not have to be hard wired through an archetypical approach. The second point is that Durkheim provides a truly sociological perspective in considering the collective unconscious as autonomous from the individuals, and thus avoids reductionism.

All this does not prove anything about the paranormal and UFO waves, but it shows that at least an autonomous and social dynamic collective unconscious is thinkable and has some basis in sociological theory.

To go back to Jung and UFOs, then it is thinkable that a large group act unknowingly as a medium, and could produce psi effect like materialization at a certain distance. The distance might remain somewhat of a limiting factor, and this may explain the existence of UFO waves, which are by definition localized. Furthermore, the psi-effect might have a degree of autonomy from individuals as it is the outcome of a multitude of minds unconsciously feeling at the same time. UFO waves are also known to move away from the original epicentre (it moved from West to East during the Airship wave of 1896-97, it moved also West to East during the 1954 French wave).

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Monday, October 20, 2008

UFO waves as social poltergeists

I alluded to this idea in my previous posts that UFO waves could be compared to grand scale poltergeists. Now, I would like to expand on it, and propose a model to approach the phenomenon.

Commonalities between UFO waves and Poltergeists

First of all, it is useful to look at the descriptive level to see commonalities. Poltergeist is quite a multifaceted phenomenon, contrary to what most people think. Poltergeists are known for inexplicable noises and bangs, as the German origin of noun can attest. The phenomenon includes also objects apparently moving by themselves, objects disappearing and reappearing. It is oftentimes construed that poltergeists are simply a macro-level form of psycho-kinesis (PK). However, there are a number of poltergeist reports that include also sightings of out-of-this-world beings and entities. Or, in other occasions it is assumed that there might be both a poltergeist and haunting dynamics going on. Then again, strange noises and bangs, and objects moving by themselves also occur during hauntings. The first important point to make here is that people tend to distinguish hauntings from poltergeist by the apparent nature of the entities seen; that they appear to be deceased human in hauntings while in poltergeist the entities appear to be something else. As one can see, this distinction between hauntings and poltergeists is an arbitrary one, and it is essentially based on descriptive elements instead than on comparing the dynamics at play.

If one takes a parapsychological approach, then hauntings and poltergeist are not fundamentally different: they are both psi effects. The descriptive differences are in part due to what people unconsciously project into the phenomenon and for the other part based the social dynamics to leads to the psi effect. Poltergeist are shorter in duration because they are caused by psychological conflicts than get resolved (one way or the other) while hauntings last longer because they are “fed” by an ongoing and content specific belief in the haunting (essentially a permanent Philip experiment). Poltergeists and hauntings are otherwise showing to be generated by the same dynamics.

1- They both have a subjective and an objective component. What is perceived and what can be recorded does match at times, but not always.
For more on this please see: Roll, W.G. (1977). “Poltergeists.” In B.B. Wolman (Ed.) Handbook of Parapsychology. New York: Reinhold, pp. 382-413.

2- They both develop through a hierarchy of experience, from mostly imperceptible phenomena to increasingly ostentatious activities culminating, if allowed to continue, with the apparition of non-human entities.
For more please see: Houran, J. and R. Lange. (2001). “A Rasch hierarchy of haunt and poltergeist experiences.” Journal of Parapsychology 65: 41-58.

3- They both end when percipients understand and internalize a different belief about the situation through someone external to his/her normal social environment. Be either by ritualistic activities such as exorcist, psychic showing the way to the other world, effective “debunking,” or psychotherapeutic intervention showing the psi component and dealing with the affect behind the phenomenon.
For more information on this issue, please see: Lucadou, W.v. (1995). “The Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI).” European Journal of Parapsychology 11: 58-75.

The UFO waves tend to respond to similar dynamic, although it is not always easy to circumscribe what could be included and excluded from a wave, now that there are so many UFO reporting outlets in the world.

To take a specific example that is well documented, the 1989-1990 Belgian UFO wave, all three components could be found. (1) There were people who saw lights in the sky, others saw a triangle in sky, and yet there was radar traces. (2) It followed a hierarchy to culminate by people seeing an object near the ground about the shape of the Concord airplane (an elongated triangle – rather than the almost equilateral triangle usually seen in the sky – with an outside appearance of bolted steel plates looking like an early 20th century ship). The official report did not discuss any encounters of the 3rd kind (CE3), although some were reported but were not made widely known. (3) The phenomenon ended shortly after the “authorities” looked into the phenomenon seriously and concluding that although it could not identify what it is, it was deemed as essentially inoffensive.

A model to investigate UFO waves

Although the above comparison between UFOs and poltergeists remain to be further developed, it constitutes a useful starting point to understand UFO waves. Also, the distinctions between hauntings and poltergeist based on the underlying social dynamics can also be useful. If the analogy is extend, then it is possible to cast the ongoing UFO sightings as a “haunting” of the sky. It is feed by the nowadays belief in the ETH, where at times genuine psi effect can occur. UFO waves, given its more dramatic and shorter lived-nature, are more akin to a poltergeist in the sky (and on the ground). The key would then be to identify the unconscious social tensions generating the psi effect.

Like in von Loucadou’s model quoted above, as well as in other poltergeist research model, it appears also necessary to identify a “central person.” Poltergeists tend to have an individual more central to the phenomenon, although it is not the only one contributing to it. Von Loucadou considers that poltergeists are a micro-social phenomenon where the entourage of the “central person” plays an important role. Not only they can participate through psi channels, but by witnessing the effects they are creating a psycho-social context reinforcing the belief in paranormal activity and thus allow it to continue further. As well, the “central person” is usually having its psychological conflict with individuals part of the same entourage; the paranormal phenomenon is just more occasions to feed unconsciously the conflict, and to leave key issues unaddressed as the attention is focussed on the phenomenon.

From a sociological perspective, if we assume that UFO waves are poltergeist at the social level (because the entire society is eventually informed of the wave), then a series of questions need to be answered:

1- If psi effects are produced by unconscious processes, then how can they be identified at the collective level? (i.e., what does constitute the collective unconscious, and how can it be studied?)

2- In a sociological context, what does constitute a “central person” and its entourage? An individual, a network, a sub-group, an entire society?

3- What kind of social conflicts are more prone to create poltergeists (for instance, teenagers are often the central person in poltergeists – one of the reason is that at that age, people’s unconscious mind goes through very profound and conflicting processes as a new identity is emerging – from child to adult). Is social identity a key element?

4- Is it a valid construct to maintain a geographic link between people and the phenomenon when it comes to social poltergeists? (i.e., usually a poltergeist occurs where the central person lives or works – is the geography of a UFO wave is a good indicator of where is the central person?)

These are some of the key questions I will try to answer. The answer will be more in the form of a expanding spiral. A provisional answer will lead to other answers, which will lead to reassess the first answer. At least, it is my hope that such process will be fruitful. I plan to use a mixture of review of existing literature, and mini historical case studies to explore some hypotheses.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Materiality of UFOs

Although the research program is about UFO waves, it is useful to clarify other assumptions about UFOs in general. One of them is the materiality of UFOs and related issues. In spite of claims by some writers (see the magazine Magonia for examples) who believe in the so-called “psycho-social hypothesis” (PSH), UFO sightings include, at times, material elements that cannot be overlooked (e.g., radar trace, marks on the soil). Yet, material traces do not prove in any way that UFOs are of extraterrestrial origin either. It is not my purpose, here, to engage in a debate with ufologists on how to interpret physical evidence, simply because most of them do not study physical evidence anyway. They try to infer out of selected witnesses’ reports what kind propulsion and technologies UFOs are made of. Instead, I propose a quick review of the serious research on the topic, i.e. study of physical evidence. This literature shows clearly that UFOs can be material, but are not crafts in spite the fact that they may appear as such to witnesses. In the world of UFOs, what you see is not necessarily what you get.

Research Findings on Physical Evidence

One of the problems in dealing with most of the ufological literature, especially since the Roswell affair, is that little efforts are made to separate previous scientific efforts put forward by governmental agencies from the public relations issues surrounding the research. Anyone who worked for a governmental research organization long enough knows that those are two separate issues. A relatively banal finding can be the object of a lot of public relations efforts because public officials are afraid that it might be misunderstood (e.g. UFOs). Conversely, major findings can lead to an absence of public relations effort because public officials cannot see its importance (e.g. when the hole in the ozone layer was first found). Hence, scientific findings, and what you do with the findings, answer to different sociological dynamics.

From a scientific point of view, some of the early research efforts were actually quite insightful. For instance, J.E. Lipp, Missile Division of the US Air Force, wrote a report as part of project SIGN in December 1948 to evaluate the validity of what we would call today the ETH. This report looks at the question in very balanced and straightforward manner, and concludes that it is unlikely that UFOs are extraterrestrial crafts. Interestingly, he notes like Jacques Vallée would do twenty years later that:

“One or two additional general remarks may be relevant to space ships as ‘flying objects’. The distribution of flying objects is peculiar, to say the least. As far as this writer knows, all incidents have occurred within the United States, whereas visiting spacemen could be expected to scatter their visits more or less uniformly over the globe. The small area covered indicates strongly that flying objects are of Earthly origin, whether physical or psychological.
The lack of purpose apparent in the various episodes is also puzzling. Only one motive can be assigned; that spacemen are ‘feeling out’ our defences without wanting to be belligerent. If so, they must have been satisfied long ago that we can’t catch them. It seems fruitless for them to keep repeating the same experiment.” (Extract taken from Steiger, Brad. (1976) Project Blue Book. New York: Ballantine Books, p. 213).

The conclusions of the Project Blue Book are also insightful, even if they are poorly understood by most ufologists. In a February 1966 report, one can read the main conclusion as follow:

This is perfectly true; there is not a shred of physical evidence (e.g., out-of-this world alloys, equipment, or organic tissue) available to this day. Again and again, UFOs are not a threat to national security (even if humans may over react and put themselves in danger by their very own actions when seeing a UFO). What is important to note is what the report does not say. It does not say that all UFOs sightings are explainable, and it does not say that they do not have a degree of material reality. Lastly, it does not say that UFOs are not worth of scientific study. All it says, is that the given the US Air Force roles and mandate, it is satisfied that there is no danger or any technological advance coming from UFOs useful to the US Air Force. As the US Air Force is not primarily a scientific research organization, it is perfectly understandable that they decided to let others spending their money researching UFOs.

By the mid-1970s, a clearer picture starts to emerge. For instance, in an interview with Jacques Vallée, he sums up very well what was known then:

“First, there is a physical object [...] All we know about it is that it represents a tremendous quantity of electromagnetic energy in a small volume. [...] The fact that is that the witnesses were exposed to an event and as a result they experience a highly complex alteration of perception which caused them to describe the object or objects that figure in their testimony.” From Fuller, Curtis G. (ed.) (1980). Proceedings of the First International UFO Congress. New York: Warner, p. 143.

Vallée, during the same Congress, also made another interesting statement:

“I did a semantic analysis of close encounters cases using a technique of full-text search on a computer in which portions of texts were coded according to what they were referred to. [...] All these people were describing light. They said, ‘The first thing that struck me was that I first saw a flash of light.’ Kenneth Arnold yesterday described something like that. The light is the overwhelming thing. It’s the origin of the sightings, it’s what attracts them to the object.” (Fuller, p. 405).

The official report about the Belgian Royal Air Force investigation of the 1990 wave is also very instructive. It is know that there were a large amount of sightings of triangular objects from witnesses on the ground during this UFO wave. But the Belgian Royal Air Force fighter pilots never saw any object, although they were able to lock their radar on the object several times, simultaneously to echoes registered by up to three NATO ground radar stations. The object also crossed the sound barrier without producing the usual choc wave. Witnesses on the ground, during the air chase, only saw a light or a group of lights. Obviously, the Belgian Royal Air Force had more questions than answers, but it appears clear that the UFO was material, but not necessarily solid.

In December 2000, the British government produced a secret report “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) in the UK Air Defence Region,” attempting to evaluate what are UFOs. The report was declassified and made available in 2006. Two key conclusions of the report are shown below:

Lastly, there is also one author that made a clear connection between all the elements emerging from the study of the physical evidence, and his book has a very revealing title:

Budden, Albert. (1998). Electric Ufos: Fireballs, Electromagnetics and Abnormal States. Darby PA: Diane Pub Co.

It is on my list of books to read.

Parallel Findings

Here are a few other researches that should be kept in mind, with respect to the materiality of UFOs.

First, there is the Hessdalen Project in Norway that studies the so-called “earth lights”. Earth lights are large balls of gas in plasma state emerge out from inside the earth, which are bright at night and look like a slivery flatten ball during the day. These are caused by seismic activity, and they are highly charged from an electro-magnetic standpoint. These were studied from a UFO standpoint Largarde in France, and Paul Devereux in the United Kingdom. As well, the Canadian Persinger also studied the impact on the brain and perception of high levels of electro-magnetism. Although earth lights can explain only a portion of the unexplainable UFOs (not all unexplainable UFOs occur in areas or time period associated with seismic activity), these researches unveil a key physical dynamics that is consistent with prior research on physical evidence. For more information, this article gives a good overview.

The second set of research is the flip side of the first one. If the human mind can be affected by strong electro-magnetic fields, research in parapsychology also shows that the human mind can also influence electrical fields. This is usually referred to as part of psychokinesis or PK for short. One can simply think about the numerous experiments with electrical random number generators (RNG). Dean Radin provides an excellent overview of this research in his book Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. New York: Paraview, 2006. As well, there have been some researches on how the human mind can interfere with computer processes, and various electrical devices. For instance,

Hecht, H. and H. Dussault. (1987). “Correlated failures in fault-tolerant computers.” IEEE Transactions on Reliability R-36: 171-175.

Pelegrin, M.J. (1988). “Computers in planes and satellites. ” In W.E. Ehrenberger (ed.), Proceedings of the IFAC Symposium. Oxford: Pergamon, pp. 121-132.

Shneiderman, B. (1987). Designing the user interface: Strategies for effective human-computer interaction. Reading: Wesley.

There is also a large literature, most of it from the popular press, that provides numerous anecdotal accounts of electrical problems linked to negative state-of-mind (e.g. frustrated person making electrical bulb failing), and electrical failure linked to haunting and poltergeists. Here is a sample of some of the scientific research related to this issue:

Brovetto, P. and V. Maxia. (2008). “Some conjectures about the mechanism of poltergeist phenomenon.” NeuroQuantology 6(2): 1-8.

Roll. William G. (2003). “Poltergeists, Electromagnetism and Consciousness.” Journal of Scientific Exploration 17(1):75–86.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet