Monday, June 29, 2009

The Black Thursday case

This post is about a particular UFO case that should be given much more prominence, and in fact it should be considered as much more important than the Roswell story. It is about one of the better known cases of the “foo fighters” era, the Black Thursday, although the details of that era tend to be poorly known in most ufological circles.

The case

This case first became known publicly through the work of Martin Caidin, an aviation history journalist who wrote a condensed version of the story in Ghosts of the Air: True stories of aerial hauntings (New York: Bantam, 1991). On 14 October 1943 a group of over 300 B-17s were flying on a day bombing mission over Schweinfurt, Germany. During this mission, the American had one of their worst bombing missions of the war, with only 197 planes returning of which many were seriously damaged (hence the name Black Thursday). Many years later, Martin Caidin discovered a strange story while doing interviews for a book about the overall mission. He found several aircrew members confirming what happened. A few years later, the ETH ufologist Andy Roberts was able to find independently the original report about the event, confirming the information that Caidin was able to collect through interviews.

Here is the content of the official report, which is quite self-explanatory:

Recd. AMCS. 171129a hrs Oct.43

From - OIPNT


8 BC 0-1079-E
Annex to Intelligence Report Mission Schweinfurt 16 October 1943

306 Group report a partially unexploded 20mm shell imbedded above the panel in the cockpit of A/C number 412 bearing the following figures 19K43. The Group Ordnance Officer believes the steel composing the shell is of inferior grade. 348th Group reports a cluster of disks observed in the path of the formation near Schweinfurt, at the time there were no E/A above. Discs were described as silver coloured - one inch thick and three inches in diameter. They were gliding slowly down in very uniform cluster. A/C 026 was unable to avoid them and his right wing went directly through a cluster with absolutely no effect on engines or plane surface. One of the discs was heard striking tail assembly but no explosion was observed. About 20 feet from these discs a mass of black debris of varying sizes in clusters of 3 by 4 feet. Also observed 2 other A/C flying through silver discs with no apparent damage. Observed discs and debris 2 other times but could not determine where it came from.

Copies to:-

P.R. & A.I.6.
War Room
A.I.3. (USA) (Action 2 copies)

An electronic copy of the report is available on this website.


We have here a case that meets all of the most rigorous criteria put forward by ETH ufology, with the exception of capturing debris.

1. The sighting was made by several and physically separated witness groups, looking from different angles;

2. The witnesses are reliable, and what they said was confirmed in an official report which can be confirmed as being authentic;

3. We are dealing with UFOs in the shape of flying saucers;

4. There was an observed physical contact between military planes and the UFOs.

Given the spontaneous and non-recurrent nature of UFOs, it can hardly get better than that. Yet, this case was essentially dismissed by ETH ufology.

Here is an excerpt of Andy Roberts’ analysis

“At least we now know Caidin's reference exists! Besides that there is little to say really. The objects reported are intriguing but not completely mystifying. There were many types of flak being used by the Germans in W.W.II and several files in the PRO refer to coloured flak, flak which threw off unusual fragments, and so on. This explanation is made more likely by the fact that the 'F.L.O.' in Caidin's reference stands for 'Flak Liaison Officer', at least suggesting that the Air Ministry were treating it within a flak context.

The objects could also have been some kind of 'window' dropped by the Germans in an attempt to disrupt radar or radio communication among air crew. The explanation as to what the small objects were is now more of a task for the air historian than it is for the ufologist. What is clear from the original account is that the discs, whilst unusual, were clearly not any type of 'craft', under intelligent or purposeful control or dangerous to the air craft or crew.

In my opinion these objects do not belong in the category of sightings referred to as 'foo-fighters', both by their physical description and by their behaviour and characteristics. Although often lumped in with foo-fighter reports they are clearly different. This story has been a staple of UFO writers for the past three-four decades. Now we have further clarification and I believe that this particular mystery is more or less laid to rest.”

Roberts’ analysis is flawed, and profoundly biased, on many counts:

1. If it was flak shells, it would have caused some damaged to the planes. Planes are fragile machines, and in those days airframes were simply covered by plasticized fabric, easy to damage.

2. Coloured shells are for helping aiming anti-aircraft guns, a well-known fact that B-17 aircrews were certainly fully aware of.

3. The fact that it was considered a flak issue was perfectly meaningful in the context of World War II. If it was discussed as an alien spaceship in 1943, it would be a clear sign that it would be most likely a fake document. The fact that military institution did not pursued further the issue, besides the fact that it had a war at hand and no time to waste with oddities, is also further evidence that it was a genuine event. This institutional behaviour was very likely due to the fact that they saw no imminent danger in these things, and no technological knowledge could be extracted out of those objects or through the observation of their behaviour. This was the same logical and sensible military reasoning that lead to the closure of the Project Blue Book. The US Air Force, and the USAAF before, is not a mystery research organization.

4. The overall argument is simply completely lacking any form of intellectual integrity as it implies that if it is not an ET craft, then it is nothing....

What needs to be underlined here is that ETH ufologists are willing to believe tall tales from 3rd hand accounts (i.e., hearsay, and some of them have been proven to be lies in the case of Roswell) supported by bogus documents (i.e, the MJ-12 stuff), while they dismiss a case that is telling us something important about the materiality of UFOs. It just happened that it does not points towards ETs and their spaceships. The ETH is all but a believe system, and this proves it once more.

Forget Roswell and the like

This case is one of the very few available that meets so many criteria for quality, including physical interactions while the witnesses do not appear to have been in an altered state of consciousness. What does it tell us about the material nature of UFOs, and flying saucers in particular?

Well, the UFO behaved like psi-substance (to use the Evans’ expression), and this is line with what is known about UFOs. As well, given that there was an imminent crisis not yet known to the aircrew, we have an important condition to produce a social psi effect (i.e., collective unconscious knowledge of a near future event having a very strong emotional charge). The symbolism of the psi-substance was also perfectly in line with what was to come in the following hours of that terrible day of October 1943 (i.e. the B-17 were to become similar to clay pigeon to the German flak).

It is also important to underline that psi-substance is known to be harmless. For instance, Rogo (1986, p. 75) investigated a rock throwing poltergeist in Tucson in 1983. On one occasion a little girl was hit by a rock weighting several pounds and should have been very seriously injured in normal circumstances, yet she had only a red mark comparable to being hit by a basket-ball on bare skin. Another case, investigated by the German parapsychologist Hans Bender during the famous Rosenheim poltergeist of 1968, was a police officer who was hit by a brick coming out of the house. He too should have been seriously injured in normal circumstances, and yet he described the hurt as equivalent to a mosquito bite.

Given the rarity of quality cases involving physical interactions with a UFO, the Black Thursday case should replace the Roswell one in terms of “best” case pertaining to UFOs, as the Roswell case does not tell us anything about UFOs (although it tells us a lot about ETH ufologists...).

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reading Notes – Visions, Apparitions and Alien Visitors

This post is reviewing a book from Hilary Evans. Evans is often referred to as author of the Psycho-social Hypothesis (PSH) by ETH ufologists. Once again, it is a label can be misleading as many ETH ufologists use it to describe approaches that assume there is no objective basis to the phenomenon. Evans does not agree with the ETH, but like Bertrand Méheust, he does deny that the phenomenon has an objective basis. Evans is quite clear in his introduction:

“[...] there is really no point in your proceeding [to read the rest of the book] unless you are willing to accept that the majority of these people really did, in some form, have the experience they reported. What form that experience seemed to take, and what its real form was, is another matter—indeed it is the matter of this book. In those cases where the witnesses offered an interpretation of their experience, we shall not necessarily accept that interpretation. But in a very great many cases they did not do so; they simply said what had happened to them, and hoped that someone else would explain it.” (p. 12).

The full notice is: Evans, Hilary. (1984). Visions, Apparitions and Alien Visitors: A comparative study of the entity enigma. London: Book Club Associates.

Entities, society and psi effects

Evans, in his book, proposes an interesting tour of various phenomena linked to the notion of meeting entities in a spontaneous and unexpected way. It covers entities in dreams, in child companions, hauntings, Marian apparitions, Men-in-Black, aliens, etc. He also looks into entities created by humans through shamanistic and magical traditions, experiments with drugs and the ones like in the Philip experiment. Although there are a number of differences between these various experiences, they have some elements in common too. They are all visual experiences, whether the person is awake or not, or using their physical eyes or not; the entities exist as images. The second key consideration is that they cause a conflict between the subjective impression we have of them and the objective evaluation we put into the experience (i.e., it appears impossible or outlandish). These two elements, the first one phenomenological, and the second one socio-cultural (i.e. what is possible/special or not is matter of social conventions), can be described as the core definition of any entity encounter.

If one looks at the content of these experiences, one can find that in dreams, apparitions, and in many hauntings the entities tend to be known persons, or knowable after some search. In the case of hallucinations, hypnagogic dreams (i.e. just before falling asleep) and childhood companions the entities appear to be unknowable strangers. In the case of visions, demonic sightings, Men-in-Black and aliens the entities tend to be stereotypical.

For the alien category specifically, Evans underlines that “UFO entities look and to a large extent behave as though they are as solid as human beings; they have longer and more detailed communication with their percipients than almost any other entity; they are more clearly associated with a particular cultural context than any other categories apart from religious visions [hence their stereotypical nature]; and they are readily identified by percipients as being what they seem to be, in the same strange way that religious visions are for the most part known to be so and not something else.” (p. 156-157).

Evans considers that the stereotypical nature of alien visitations can be better explained by introducing the concept of collective unconscious. “[...] when an individual percipient sees an entity, does he do so as an individual—seeking a solution for his individual problem—or as a member of the community—seeing a symbol of universal significance that expresses the communal angst of his place and time? This is where Jung’s hypothesis works superbly: for it proposes that the percipient undergoes his experience both as an individual and as a child of his time. And the result is that he sees an entity that has a communal significance—the Virgin Mary, an alien visitor—but with specific attributes that relate to his own situation—the Virgin gives a message of personal comfort, the alien shares his preoccupation with ecology or The Bomb.” (p. 252).

However, he concedes that more is needed. One possibility is the idea of an “image-bank”, known to Jungian analysts as the “Absolute Knowledge” and to occultists as the “Akashic Records”. There is information in the entity experience that is transmitted to the percipients without using the normal physical means, which implies that some form of ESP effect has occurred. It is in this context that Evans wrote ”but even if we have to leave open the question of whether the agency was internal or external, this much is certain: either way, access to some external source of information occurred, and something like the image-bank hypothesis is needed to account for it” (p. 256). For instance, when someone sees an apparition of a known person at the very time when that person dies while being physically separated by hundreds or thousands of kilometres, they often see them in the way they were dressed at the time of death. This is information passed along without using normal physical means (and this exactly the definition of ESP). Similarly, when Betty Hill gets her “pregnancy test” through a method to be invented a few years later, information about the future was passed along. In a way, it is possible to speculate that entity apparitions can be construed, at least in part, as an involuntary form of remote-viewing, and where like in remote-viewing raw ESP signals and imagination get mixed up.

Another important hypothesis that Evans looked into is the “psi-substance”, or materialization through psi effects. Many apparitions have some physical effects that can be measured, like in the case of hauntings. Hence, for Evans, “whatever they originate, by whatever means they penetrate to the mind of the percipient, those entities are to some degree material artefacts”. (p. 262). And he adds that “[...] if not a psi-substance, then it will have to be something else equally revolutionary. For somehow we have to account for these entities which appear as a ball of light and slowly grow into full forms; for apparitions that gradually take shape in an empty room; for figures seen by two or more people simultaneously, or by one witness when it leaves the room and by another when it enters another; for entities who bring information, or carry it in the form of identifiable clothing and the like. None of these things can happen without some kind of material dimension; and for that dimension, ‘psi-substance’ is as good a working label as any other.” (p. 263).

In the same spirit as Schwartz’ s (1983) suggestion that some UFO experiences can be some sort of telepathically shared hallucinations, Evans considers that the partial material dimension of the entity experience must complemented by something else. As he wrote, “one of the many puzzling aspects of entity sightings is their ambiguous character, the way they combine elements that seem to indicate an external source with others that seem to refer back to the percipient himself”. (p. 264). Evans notes that in the 1970s (once again!) two noted French ufologists (Pierre Guérin and Michel Monnerie) separately came to the conclusion that the UFO experience appears to combine objective and subjective elements. Although Guérin and Monnerie did not agree on what caused people to see things and yet sincerely report them as true. Building on Claude Rifat’s research on the brain, it appears that various forms of radiation can cause hallucinations (hence an external objective source), but like in the case of dreams it draws from the percipient’s unconscious images (this is also very much in line with Budden’s research). Although Evans agrees that a bio-chemical trigger is likely at play here, it does not explain why two or more people have the same hallucination, nor how can they get information without physical means. The shared telepathic dream hypothesis would explain the above, without invalidating the notion of a bio-chemical trigger. However, more research to validate this hypothesis is required.

Among his other conclusions, Evans states that “Though there are differences in kind between the entities thus seen, these differences can generally be traced to the percipient’s social and cultural background, and do not necessarily imply fundamental differences between the phenomena themselves. It does appear, though, that certain states of mind and/or body are conducive to certain kinds of experience”. (p. 299). Another one is that “while in most cases it is reasonable to suppose that the experience originates within the mind of the percipient himself, there are some cases where the most reasonable assumption is that the sighting is initiated by the apparent [the perceived entity], or by some agent controlling the apparent: that is, by some source external to the percipient” (p. 299).

Evans book is very much in line with the discourse about UFO and entities that was emerging during the 1970s. His approach, however, is interesting as he takes into consideration a wider array of entity experience, the alien in spaceship being only one of them. It is interesting to note that for him the notion of collective unconscious is more applicable to the UFO phenomenon (and the Marian apparitions) because of their stereotypical nature. But like many before and after him, he does not provide an explanation for inner dynamics of the collective unconscious. It is also interesting to note that his key conclusions are quite similar to what has been integrated into the model I developed out of a review of the literature. His research confirms further that the basic structure of the model I developed is in line with what is known about UFOs, alien apparitions and other anomalous phenomena.

Further thoughts

In the light of this review, it is now quite clear that our knowledge of the UFO phenomenon has not made much progress since the late 1970s/early 1980s. Many key ideas and notions were developed then, but were not pursued vigorously afterward. It is probably due in large part to the Roswell/Majestic hysteria, which did provide any room for anything else to be published but entertainment-like books and documentaries about aliens and conspiracies.

The hysteria has now subsided, but the field of ufology is also in serious decline. Key organizations such as APRO disappeared in the early 2000s after the death of the last co-founder; BUFORA is now essentially a minor ufological website on the net; the Belgian SOBEP that became so famous after the 1989-90 UFO wave has been dissolved in 2008, and many other could be listed here. Many active authors are now retired or moved on to other things, among them Jacques Vallée, Richard Hall, Jerome Clark, Jenny Randles, Paul Kimball, and Nick Pope. Another indicator of the decline is that in 2007, no major book was published to celebrate 60 years of ufology, while there were such books in 1987 for the 40th, and for the 50th in 1997. Lastly, there has been no major UFO wave in the North America or Europe since the Belgian one of 1989-1990, hence the phenomenon has not tried to make itself particularly interesting for close to an entire generation.

The task of parasociology is therefore multiple. On one hand, it has to develop further some keys ideas formed in the 1970s, while developing new ones, such as a better understanding of the inner dynamic of the collective unconscious. On the other hand, it is also an important opportunity to fill the void that the contracting ETH is leaving right now. However, the best way to do it remains to encourage a radical paradigm shift rather trying to engage in a “fight” with the remnants of the ETH.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reading Notes - The Unidentified

This post is reviewing a book written by Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman, The Unidentified. A fact not that well known in the world of ufology is that Jerome Clark was not, at first, a supporter of the ETH. He considered the phenomenon as a parapsychological one. In the introduction of their book, they wrote that the ETH believer

“has managed to demonstrate only that something is going on, something very strange for which no satisfactory accounting has yet been made. Yet as strange as these UFO sightings undoubtedly are, there is at the same time an oddly mundane, undeniably terrestrial quality to them which makes them all the more mysterious” (p. 10).

These lines were written in 1975, almost 35 years ago, and they are as true now as they were then. Once more, anyone really interested in studying UFOs should skip, with a few exceptions, what was written during the 1980s and 1990s, and most of the little that has been produced in 2000s. Clearly, ufology has remained at a standstill since the 1970s, or worst: it has been seriously declining in quality ever since. The full notice is:

Clark, Jerome and Loren Coleman. (1975). The Unidentified: Notes toward solving the UFO mystery. New York: Warner.

A constant human experience in multiple forms

It is interesting to note that what they wrote was very much in tune with other writings of the same period, particularly Keel (1975), Méheust (1978), Rogo (1977), and Viéroudy (1977).

Clark and Coleman provide a number of stories, many prior to 1945, about strange events that were not construed as UFO incidents, but would certainly be if they were to occur today. In all these cases, the common patterns are not the “flying spacecrafts” but rather how people interacted with the strange phenomenon. In other words, what is constant is not the phenomenon itself but rather how our relationship to the phenomenon is structured (i.e. the narrative or archetype). They see in the UFO experience, therefore, a theme rather than a physical experience per se. This approach is similar to one I took in an older article.

They describe the UFO phenomenon as a myth, and underline that: “Myths, so the banal axiom has it, die hard, but a growing body of scholarship, combining the techniques of anthropology and psychoanalysis, disputes this conventional wisdom and argues instead that myths don’t die at all; they just put on new faces. The familiar world of conscious thought and experience goes its own way, blithely ignoring the needs of the unconscious mind and even disputing its very existence. But the unconscious remains. Its language, which it speaks in myth and symbol, may change, but its meaning remains the same. The old gods and demons and spirits continue to haunt us, ghosts in the machine which were supposed to have supplanted them” (p. 48).

To support their thesis they look into a number of folkloric tales which are showing the same fundamental narrative, but experienced in different guise in different eras, and quote as well Vallée’s book Passport to Magonia. They underline that: “Fairies, like UFO beings, come in all sizes and shapes, but, again like UFO beings, they are usually diminutive. Some are the size of dwarfs; others are Lilliputian in stature. Some are beautiful; others are ugly. Their temperament is at best uncertain, and they are better left alone. But they can be very kind if they wish to be.” (p. 67).

They also bring many examples from anthropologists who studied shamanism, visions of the saints, as well as Marian apparitions, testimonies of travel or abduction to strange places, and they clearly show that these experiences have a lot in common with the UFO experience. Among some of these commonalities with the UFO experience they underline buzzing sounds (p. 76), feelings of unity with the universe (p. 95), paralysis (p. 96), dream-like scenarios (p. 187), and shared telepathic events (p. 189).

Re-inventing the wheel?

Once again, after reading this book of the 1970s, I am left with a feeling that many ideas proposed for the parasociological study of UFOs are simply re-inventing the wheel. Their final chapter is entitled “paraufology”, in an attempt to link parapsychology and ufology, something I am trying to do for sociology and parapsychology. Clark and Coleman conclude their book in making two statements, which describe well the approach I have taken so far. The first one is that “the UFO mystery is primarily subjective and its content is primarily symbolic” (p. 236). The second is that “the ‘objective’ manifestations are psychokinetically generated by products of those unconscious processes which shape a culture’s vision of the otherworld. Existing only temporarily, they are at best only quasiphysical” (p. 242). In support of this second statement, they too refer to Roll’s (1972) poltergeist research and to the notion of tulpas from David-Néel (1973). As well, they also made the connection between the “Men-in-Black” as a modern version of the devil’s archetype (p. 239), as folklorist Peter Rojcewicz proposed later on (1987).

Like many other researchers already mentioned in this blog, Clark and Coleman invoke the effects of the collective unconscious, but contrary to others they have looked a bit more into its internal dynamics for explaining the UFOs dynamics. They rely heavily, but without mentioning him, on Claude Lévy-Strauss (1963) structural anthropology, whose ideas were clearly dominating the field of anthropology in the 1970s.

Lévy-Strauss’ ideas were themselves relying on Jung’s concept of archetype. He proposed that like in the case of individuals, societies have an unconscious, and borrowing from Freud’s idea that dreams are the “royal road” to investigate the unconscious, Lévy-Strauss saw in myths societies’ dreams. Hence, myths function like dreams for individuals in the sense that they provide room for the irrational and the suppressed to be expressed in ways that are not threatening to the existence of a society. If these myths are too much suppressed by an excess of rationalism, then the irrational is likely to come out in destructive ways (e.g. destructive new cults, social unrests, civil wars, etc.).

But dreams are not considered as pure free play in this context. At the individual level, if the details will vary widely from one person to another, they are built on typical “scenarios” understood by Jung as an expression of what he calls the “archetypes”. At the social level, myths are also much diversified in their content, but according to Lévy-Strauss they also have a limited number of basic scenarios that he call structures (hence the notion of “structural” anthropology).

With these ideas in the background, Clark and Coleman proposed that UFOs and many other similar paranormal manifestations are the product of the collective unconscious seeking a way to express itself. It is in this context they wrote: “because the collective unconscious exists outside time and space, it can perceive the direction of events in a manner denied us in ordinary conscious perception. It is attuned to elements in the common psyche of humanity that are unknown and deeply mysterious. Nonetheless it occasionally manifests itself to us in dreams or visions which preview future occurrences. […] When the premonition arises out of the collective unconscious, it may be to alert us to the imminence of some major event of archetypal significance[…]” (p. 233). This approach describes quite well the approach I took in the case study of the Hills’ alleged abduction.

Similarly, they propose that the “Men-in-Black” are an expression of the collective unconscious directed at those who want to dig without due precautions into the unconscious. At the individual level, Jungian and Freudian psychoanalysts tend to see demoniac dreams and visions and the like as one’s unconscious telling his/her consciousness to not open too wide the lid of the unconscious, as we also store there our darkest impulses.

Ultimately, Clark and Coleman consider that the UFO phenomenon is an expression of a repressed collective unconscious that takes the means to be heard. They add that “if this balance is not soon restored, the UFO myth tells us, nature will have its way. The collective unconscious, too long repressed, will burst free, overwhelm the world, and usher in an era of madness, superstition, and terror—with all their socio-political accouterments: war, anarchy, fascism” (p. 241). On this point, I am not sure that their dim predictions have occurred. I think, instead, that the collective unconscious, most of the time, gets heard one way or the other and it is precisely why societies in general do not sink into complete anarchy. In other words, social order is more prevalent than social anarchy.

They also see the UFO phenomenon as a global poltergeist, but unlike John Keel who sees non-human entities as being behind the phenomenon, Clark and Coleman see only humans. They state that “thus we are rather surprise that so far, to our knowledge, no one has considered the UFO phenomenon as a kind of ‘planetary poltergeist’ usually generated by the psychic energy of the collective unconscious and more rarely by the individual unconscious” (p. 244). On this last point, I think that the individual unconscious actually “picks up” on the collective unconscious once mythological theme is established. If in the case of the Barney and Betty Hill story the collective unconscious played an important role in framing the event, most of the subsequent “abduction” accounts to this date were probably generated by individual unconscious processes, feeding from a socially shared narrative content. It is a critical distinction for empirical research that is not found in Clark and Coleman’s book.

As well, they comment that “if the otherworld is really the domain of the collective unconscious imprinted on the ‘psi field’ creating in each cultural frame of reference a dream world that is relatively fixed in the psychic realm, then occasionally—through a process of ‘psychic spillover’—its errant inhabitants may enter our realm. This happens when the PK function of the brain confronts the archetypal contents of the otherworld, and it apparently is a side-effect of only secondary importance” (p. 245). Here again, I think Clark and Coleman are confusing two levels of analysis. PK spillovers from the collective unconscious can describe a number of events where the individual witnesses may not be psi subjects, while in other instances the PK effect is created by the witnesses themselves. It is also another important distinction that has substantial consequences if one is to conduct empirical research.

As it is known, Clark eventually distanced himself from his own book around 1980. The Wikipedia article on him, it states that “In the years since, Clark has championed a sort of open-ended agnosticism, choosing to focus on phenomena that are purported to have some degree of documentable support—whether physical evidence, or reliably reported events. He has argued very cautiously in favor of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, not as proven fact but as a working hypothesis, choosing to focus on the UFO cases he regards as the most promising: multiple witness and/or UFO cases which are said to leave physical evidence”.

It is interesting to note that 35 years later “more objective physical evidences” are still nowhere to be found. Without speculating too much on his reasoning to change his approach, the date of 1980 appears to me as very meaningful, as it was the beginning of the Roswell/Majic hysteria, an era where it was almost impossible to publish (and sell) anything about UFOs without embracing the ETH.

What’s left?

Clark has changed his approach, but it did not help him to provide any further explanations of the UFO phenomenon. From that point of view, his previous researches highlight that parasociology has still its work cut out. First, if Jung and Levy-Strauss approaches are useful to explain why we see UFOs today, while we saw fairies yesterday, they are not very helpful when one needs to go at a lower level of analysis (i.e. why these specific witness, why at that time, why that particular content, etc.). This only reinforces my previous conclusion that a better understanding of the inner dynamics of the collective unconscious is required. It would be helpful for parasociology, but also for sociology, psychology, parapsychology, and for the study of paranormal phenomenon in general. As well, it reinforces the notion that if we are to come closer to solve the UFO mystery, it is by looking around the phenomenon that we will find some components of its inner dynamics, rather than naively looking at a multitude of “naturalistic” descriptions of the phenomenon in the hope that something will emerge.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Barney and Betty Hill Story – Case study in parasociology (Part 3)

This post is the third and last of this case study on the Barney and Betty Hill “alien abduction” story. The model used to understand the psychological and sociological dimensions of PEMIEs is assessed.

The concept of PEMIE

This concept has been useful in many ways. In the context of the case study, the empirical evidence on the material portion of the story fits well with the built-in notion that the UFO experience has a fleeting material basis. The evidence provided by the witnesses point towards a ball of light combined with either or both hallucinations and psi effects. Hence, by “bracketing” the issue of a possible spacecraft involvement, one can start looking seriously into the human and symbolic dimensions of the events. However, such bracketing needs to be resolved, as its content was part of the witnesses’ accounts. In looking in greater depth into the evidence, distorted perceptions due to altered state of consciousness, possible false memory created after the event, and psi effect can actually account for what was put in bracket. The concept of PEMIE can therefore neutralize some ETH preconceptions.

The individual psi effect level

It is not possible to prove that there was psi effects involved, but it is possible to show that the known enabling conditions for psi effects to occur where present during the events described by the witnesses. In this regards, Heath’s (2003) book and concepts were quite useful, and should be fully integrated into a more detailed sub-component of the model. There is little doubt that both Barney and Betty were in a deep altered state of consciousness (ASC) during the events of 21 September 1961. As well, it is clear that Betty had from the onset a very open attitude towards what we call nowadays the ETH. The combination of both deep ASC and beliefs constitute important factors in producing psi effects. Barney’s internal struggle about the interpretation to give to the events is more interesting, and this type of inner struggles has not received a lot of attention from parapsychology in term of how it influences the production psi effects. One clear outcome of this case study is that more research on internal clash of belief systems in the context of producing psi effects is required.

The shared psi effect level

With the evidence available, the possibility of telepathic sharing of images could not be verified. The conditions for such verification appear to be relatively narrow. It requires two or more witnesses who were in deep altered state of consciousness, and who reported the same highly improbable event, but who would not have been in any contact with each others afterward. As well, it would require at least a third observer who had witnessed the same event, but reported something different, and who had no contact with the two other ones. These conditions were not present in the Hill case, and thus it is not possible to determine how useful this element of the model is.

The use of von Lucadou’s concepts has been very effective to understand how the strange events of September 1961 became the archetype “Gray abduction” story. Even if there might not have been any psi effect after the events of 21 September 1961 (although Betty found her lost earrings on their kitchen table surrounded by leafs – a possible poltergeist-like event. These after the fact PK events have been documented in parapsychology as a form of lingering PK effects after the main PK event is over). Mapping the psycho-social dynamics of paranormal events remains of great importance, as the meaning attached to the events is usually developed or firmed up afterward. The main limitation of von Lucadou’s concepts is that it was developed to study recurring psi effects (i.e., RSPKs), while the Hill case was a construed as a single event. Hence, it is not possible to assess if the psycho-social dynamics contributed to the production of any psi effect. Von Lucadou’s concept might be used more extensively in the case of repeat “abduction” scenarios.

The social psi level

It is probably impossible to make any direct inference between a paranormal event and the social conditions that may enable it. This is an inherent limitation of parasociology. However, it is possible to make indirect inferences. In the Hill case, there are a number of symbolic elements that have a strong internal coherence. The conjunction of dates with two major social events (the Berlin crisis and the Freedom ride first victory), the symbolic dimension of the “ship” looking like a bus, the “alien” appearance, and the “alien” behavior in the light of the racial tensions of 1961, the direct involvement of the witnesses with the Civil Rights movement, and Barney’s internal psychological tensions about these social issues, provide a strong case for an event with a socially-based source for the event. Furthermore, the conjunction of psi enabling factors at the individual level, as discussed above, with social level enabling events reinforces the hypothesis that the Hill experience might have a psi event with more than one sources. The proof for this last statement cannot be established just yet, of course, but it can be said that the key hypothesis of parasociology has survived its first test by not being contradicted.

The concept of plausibility structure has been also a useful extension of von Loucadou’s concepts into the sociological realm. It also illustrates what Leledakis and Castoriadis wrote about the non-deterministic nature of social change because charge emerges, first, into the collective unconscious. If this analysis of the Hill story is by and large correct, then it means that a very unusual (or paranormal) event, originally fueled by the racial tensions at a specific time in a specific country, mutated into a new, lasting and now worldwide narrative about alleged alien presence on Earth. No one, no model, and no grand theory could have predicted such an outcome. Ultimately, it can represent another interesting illustration of the “trickster” archetype in action.


The parasociological model to study UFO events and developed based on a review of the literature surveyed so far has survived its first test. However, it is clear that it remains a model with inherent limitations. One of them is that psi effects cannot be measured directly, and can only be inferred by assessing the nature and extent of psi enabling factors linked to a particular event. This limitation would certain be very problematic for those who espouse a positivist epistemological approach, but would be quite acceptable for those who study single events after the fact like historians and political scientists, as a case for a strong internal validity can still be made (if the evidence support it). Given the ontological nature of non-recurrent and spontaneous psi events, espousing a positivist approach is simply inappropriate as determinism in human affairs is relatively limited.

The next step will be to try the model on a UFO wave to assess if it can be useful in such context as well.

Copyright © 2009 Eric Ouellet