Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review - The UFO Phenomenon

This post is reviewing a book published in 2009 (for a change...). I was please to find a serious book about UFOs that does not fall into the ETH mythology; such books are not often published. The author is an occultist, but his book is not too much influenced by his beliefs, and he should be congratulated for not letting his own views color too much his analysis. The full notice is:

Greer, John Michael. (2009). The UFO Phenomenon: Fact, Fantasy, and Disinformation. Woodbury: Llewellyn, 248 p.


In the first part, Greer’s book provides a very good overview of the history of the UFO phenomenon, and about how the ETH myth was created. He covers the most famous UFO sightings since the ancient Roman times to this the present period, and he concludes very soundly that “[s]ince the dawn of recorded history, in fact, human beings have been seeing weird things moving through the air, and those things have usually had a very close resemblance to the hopes, fears, and speculations of those who saw them” (p. 6).

He provides also an interesting explanation as to how science fiction and the lack of traditional religious belief in the later industrial age have set the stage for the UFO phenomenon. His argument is very close to Méheust’s, but he does not refer to him, and Méheust’s book is not in the bibliography either.

The rest of the first section provides a well-documented description as to how the UFO myth was developed over time. From the 1950s contactees, to the history of NICAP, to the Roswell and MJ-12 stuff, and the abduction narratives, Greer explains how the ETH mythology got firmer while it became clear that the phenomenon was becoming increasingly elusive.

As well, the book provides an interesting and accessible sociology of the UFO knowledge, exploring in a symmetric way the various hypotheses about the UFO phenomenon. I certainly recommend this book for any new comer to the world of ufology. The book is well-written, properly documented, and provides level-headed arguments.

The author, however, is first and foremost attacking two main views about UFOs: the ETH and the complete denial about the existence of UFOs, what he calls the null hypothesis. From this point of view, Greer’s book is moving beyond the familiar (and boring) territory of ufology.

The hypotheses in ufology

It is interesting to note that Greer is using an approach close to what can be found in sociology of science for his evaluation of the various hypotheses about UFOs. Among others, he is using Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigm to understand how the ETH and the null hypothesis came about as the dominant views in ufology. Yet, both the ETH and the null hypothesis are fundamentally logical fallacies. As he wrote, “ [a]t the core of most arguments for the extraterrestrial hypothesis, as we’ve seen, is a bit of dubious logic claiming that if an unknown object seen in the air isn’t a hallucination, a hoax, or a misidentification of something more ordinary, it must by definition be a spacecraft piloted by aliens. The defenders of the null hypothesis, far from challenging this questionable logic, have simply taken it and stood it on its head, arguing that since an unknown object in the air can’ t be a spacecraft piloted by aliens, it must by definition be a hallucination, a hoax, or a misidentification of something ordinary.” (p. 129).

Some of the most common alternative explanations are also presented by Greer. They include the intraterrestrial, cryptoterrestrial, time-travel, demonic, ultraterrestrial, and neurological hypotheses. For him, most of them are problematic, but they at least provide a wider look at the UFO phenomenon. Only the geophysical hypothesis (mostly the work of Devereux and Persinger) appears strong to him, although not completely able to explain the phenomenon. I certainly agree with him.

Solving the mystery?

The last section of the book is entitled “Solving the mystery,” and it is also the weakest one. Greer’s argument is three-fold. First, from time immemorial humans have seen apparitions, especially when in an altered state of consciousness, and this explains the complete lack of evidence about UFOs, as well as the phenomenological similarities between sightings (like the “ Oz factor” ). Second, there was a vast conspiracy by the military, and the U.S. Air Force in particular, to hide secret prototypes under the guise that they were UFOs (i.e., aliens in spaceship), which explains the physical traces when it is not caused by geophysical activities. Third and last is the cultural dynamics of UFO stories combined with the governmental conspiracies for hiding secret planes that provided the common content to the UFO phenomenon.

It is clear that the cultural dynamics described by Greer had a great role to play in providing the content of the UFO experience. As well, there is no doubt that some military establishments used the UFO phenomenon to hide secrets, which in turn just fuelled furthermore the UFO mythology. But the existing facts about UFO cannot be all explained that way. To paraphrase Hynek, I guess the U.S. Air Force is everywhere around the world, ready to produce hoaxes to hide its aircrafts.... No! This explanation can certainly cover a number of unexplainable sightings, but they cannot account for the ones that are truly unexplainable, especially when the UFO defies the laws of physics. A good example is the Belgian wave of 1989 where the secret American aircraft explanation has been proposed, but it still failed to explain the incredible UFO behaviour.

Another problem is about Greer not discussing at all the parapsychological (or psychical) hypotheses about UFOs, which is quite odd as there is a healthy corpus available. His notion of apparition is not very well-developed and he relies essentially on superficial comparisons with shamanism in a pop culture context to make his point. In the end, he does not explain anything on the issue of apparitions, while by integrating parapsychology he would have been able to provide some serious explanations about apparitions.

All this to say that, no, the mystery has not been solved as the section’s title implies.

Rear guard battles

The book, however, is more problematic from the point of view of those who are not new comers in the world of UFOs. Greer shows well why the ETH is so problematic. But ufology in its ETH version is on the decline, and more energy could have been spent on explaining the phenomenon rather than explaining what it is not. Similarly, the issue of the null hypothesis is overdone. There are very few people nowadays who reject completely that there are no UFOs (if not define as alien in spaceship, but just as what it is: unidentified flying objects). The fact that there are strange things in the sky that we cannot explain is nothing new, nor nothing hidden. Starting with the Project Blue Book of the 1960s, up to the present declassification of UFO archives by the many countries to include Belgium, Britain, Canada, Chile, France, and Russia (and there are probably others that I am not aware of), these various governments came to pretty much the same conclusion: there are strange things in the sky that we cannot explain, but they do not appear to be dangerous nor made of useful physical technologies, and therefore it would not be a wise use of public funds to investigate these aerial mysteries. Debunking the ETH and the null hypothesis, in 2009, is a rear guard battle.

To conclude, this book is an excellent introduction to the UFO phenomenon, especially for those who are new to the field. But for those who are not new, the book is not on the leading-edge, and is either superficial or focuses on the wrong issues.

Eric Ouellet © 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reading Notes – Parapsychology and the UFO

This post is reviewing a short and self-published book on the similarities between parapsychological phenomena and the UFO experience. It is based on an article submitted to the Journal of Parapsychology in the early 1980s, by the author, Manfred Cassirer. The article, however, was rejected because it was deemed to be of “limited interest to parapsychology”. It is important to note that although Cassirer was not warm to the ETH, his approach remains spiritist (i.e. accepts as valid explanations involving non-human entities (such as ghosts, spirits, etc.)—something that goes against the fundamental assumption of the Journal of Parapsychology that paranormal phenomena are of human-origin). This book provides an interesting overview of phenomena being quite similar to what is observed in psychical research and in ufology. Unfortunately, the very idea of using non-human entities (but non-ETs) at core of any explanation about UFOs remains at the heart of the problem (as such idea is an improvable tautology), and this book is a good illustration of this issue. The full notice is:

Cassirer, Manfred. (1988). Parapsychology and the UFO. London: n.p.

False symmetric analysis

Cassirer wrote his book as a series of short chapters trying to link the resemblances between paranormal phenomena and the UFO experience. It is the first book I found that does this comparative exercise in a direct manner, by someone who appears to know about both fields relatively well. This 62 page book has 29 chapters, covering a number of topics such as “UFO-prone = Psi-prone?”, “Malfunctioning”, “Apparitions”, “Materialization”, “ESP”, “Luminosities”, “ “Teleportation and levitation”, “Poltergeist”, etc. In spite of covering a wide array of phenomena linked to both paranormal activities and UFOs, the comparison remains based on descriptive research that does not seek to look into the deeper dynamics at play (and from that point of view it is suffering from a common “disease”, particularly virulent in the English-speaking world, that of vulgar “Hume-like empiricism”), implying that if something cannot be observed directly by the senses then it is not worth studying. In other words, Cassirer ‘s analysis repeats some of the key problems plaguing psychical research (to be distinguished from parapsychology) and ufology, where witnesses’ description are only used for the data dealing with the phenomenon at plays, ignoring for the most part what is around the phenomenon, who are the witnesses psychologically, and the symbolic dimension of what is happening. Ultimately, the analysis lacks a common unifying theme.

In turn, this Hume-like empiricism leads to Cassirer’s position (shared by many others in paranormal research) of supposedly “scientific neutrality” towards various hypotheses (i.e., UFOs and paranormal events can be produced be either human psi activities or non-human entities, terrestrial or otherwise). As he wrote, “thus we do not advocate commitment to the effect that there is an implicit ‘psychic solution’, whatever such a statement could mean. But putting these subjects into watertight compartments automatically rules out any potentially valuable cross-fertilization.” (p. 55).

It is a very common attitude in the world of paranormal research (but less in ufology) to state that one is “neutral” or “scientific” or “agnostic” (and the sophisticated ones will use the word “symmetry”) when it comes to assess the overall value of various hypotheses. But there is actually nothing “neutral” or “scientific” or “agnostic” about it, they simply surrender their capacity for critical thinking. A true symmetric analysis, as described by a number of sociologists of scientific knowledge like Bruno Latour, Steve Woolgar, David Bloor, and Harry Collins, really means that one ought to evaluate various forms of knowledge, but by using the same criteria in the same way (for instance, if one rejects any witness’ statement without having corroboration, then the same rule needs to be applied to the representatives of the government, police, and military). As well, symmetry also requires that the proponents of a theory or approach to live up to their own criteria (for instance, ETH ufologists cannot ask for (physical) “evidence” to proponents of other ufological hypotheses while they themselves cannot provide any).

Someone who is truly symmetric in his/her analysis will do the analysis, and come up with some conclusion; that is using one’s critical thinking capacities. It is the only that we can push forward our knowledge on a given topic, at the risk of discovering that we were wrong later on. But to take a position that says “who knows, it might be ghosts, it might be ETs, it might be intraterrestrials, it might be parapsychological, etc.”, is not being symmetrical; it is actually failing to do anything! Those who do nothing as describe here, oftentimes claim to do a lot of “field research.” But what they do is not scientific and is not actually doing research either, as they do not seek to prove or disprove a hypothesis; they are just fooling around. Whatever they do will not contribute to the advancement of any form of science, because they are not looking for anything in particular (as determined by a proper symmetric analysis). From that point of view, the rejection of Cassirer’s submission to the Journal of Parapsychology was well justified, but not because it was not interesting and not because he was spiritist, but rather because the article was seriously lacking in critical thinking and was hiding behind a false symmetric posture.

Some interesting points

In spite of the problems in Cassirer’s central arguments, he provides a number of interesting points. He is aware of the serious limitations of the ETH, and that the parapsychological hypothesis:

“How ‘real’ are UFO-type apparitions? By comparing accounts by naïve (?) and ‘imaginary’ contactees under hypnosis with those who genuinely claim such experiences, a strange pattern of identity in the description of the craft ‘craft’ and its occupants emerges (Lawson 1980 A). We do not know why; neither should we ignore significant differences. At any rate, the close similarities between ‘true’ and ‘false’ militate against the extra-terrestrial hypothesis, suggesting, on the contrary, links with the paranormal [...]” (p. 16)

He also underlined the deep similarities between the UFO phenomenon and psi in general, and PK in particular. “If it is of the nature of the UFO phenomenon to be ‘elusive and clandestine’ (Hendry 1980 B), so also is it of the nature of psi. [...] The PK-like effects by which cars are stalled and electronic apparatus put temporarily out of action are of the essence of ufology. UFOs are reported as shooting up and disappearing into thin air without so much as a ‘by your leave’: alternatively they simply render themselves invisible. They change their shape or divide into several units, suggesting that they are not manufactured objects but, rather, provisional or temporary structures (Zurcher 1979. 108).” (p. 20).

An important issue that was not missed by Cassirer is the “lights in the sky” is a very ancient phenomenon, and it was only recently that it was ascribed an ET meaning. “Unexplained lights, whether in the sky or indoors (illuminating ‘flying saucers’; haunted houses; séances) are a common feature of both disciplines as well as of mysticism. [...] There is, in fact, a veritable embarras de richesses regarding luminous phenomena, and a considerable volume could be dedicated to that subject alone. Luminosities in the heavens, particularly at night, may present insuperable difficulties to precise interpretation [...]” (p. 27).

Parapsychology and the UFO

Cassirer’s book title is actually misleading, and it should have been “Psychical Research and the UFO”. Descriptive comparisons between paranormal phenomena and the UFO experience are interesting and noteworthy, but it is not the real issue. It is rather the similarities in the physical, biological, psychological and social dynamics of both paranormal and UFO events that can produce strong linkages. Such linkages, in turn, are what can unify research agendas on a variety of phenomenon that appear distinct on the surface. That’s the real issue.

Eric Ouellet © 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reading Notes – Dark White

This post is reviewing a 15-year old book on the alien abduction phenomenon. Although there is nothing really new in this book, it provides a very good overview of the phenomenon, as well as how it was researched, and what are the main findings since the 1970s. This confirms, however, that ufology has not produced anything of substance on this issue for quite a long time. The full notice is:

Schnabel, Jim. (1994). Dark White: Aliens, abductions, and the UFO obsession. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Beyond “nuts-and-bolts,” electromagnetism and abnormal psychology

Schnabel provides a good overview of Michael Persinger’s research on electromagnetism and UFOs, including its limitations, and the usual critiques coming from the “nuts-and-bolts” ufologists. Schnabel is quite right in underlining that a purely bio-physical approach is not sufficient,

“Moreover, the postulation of a largely subclinical continuum of ‘temporal lobe lability’ to explain odd experiences such as abduction was largely based on reports of such experiences by clinically normal people; Persinger and other such researchers did not know that such experiences always stemmed from temporal lobe lability. In fact, reports of such experiences might alternatively be seen as evidence for how widespread the abduction phenomenon had become.” (p. 160).

But then, it is also clear that the “nuts-and-bolts” ufologists have also a serious problem. Once again, this materialist ET hypothesis demands, by definition, a material proof, yet it is simply not there.

“But even so, [Budd] Hopkins and the others would have liked to see some alien artefacts, or perhaps photographic evidence that nuts-and-bolts spacecraft were zooming into abductees’ backyards in the death of the night. They couldn’t help but acknowledge that continual absence of such evidence, even as the number of abduction accounts recorded by ufologists climbed into the thousands in the late 1980s, was bothersome”. (p.162).

Although Hopkins claimed to have a case where the actual movement in the sky of an abductee was seen by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and wrote a book about it, Hopkins was actually victim of a hoax. George Hansen (2005), who investigated the case, found very easily that the people behind the claims were indeed playing a prank on Hopkins.

To explain all this, a number of psychologists proposed that are people who are more prone to fantasy, and when combined with a traumatic past, they can have very strange experiences taking the form of abduction by strange beings. Among some of psychological findings on these unusual experiences, several similarities were found between people who had near-death experiences and UFO abductions.

“The results were striking. Near-death experiences and UFO abductees to be distinct from other people—even other New Agers and ufologists—in several remarkable respects: they were relatively likely to have claimed rough childhoods, involving physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, neglect, and a negative household atmosphere overall. During childhood they were also likely to have had encounters with ‘nonphysical beings’—imaginary playmates or fairies—and were likely to consider themselves as having been psychically sensitive. They were easily hypnotizable. And often ‘blanked out’ spontaneously during routine tasks.” (p. 197).

Although powerful these findings may be, they are not sufficient to explain a number of key elements of such experiences. First, some events involve more than one individual, like the Barney and Betty Hill story. A personality-based explanation cannot provide for simultaneous individual experiences. Then, there are some cases involving independent witnesses who observe strange lights in the sky at the same that of the reported event. Once again, a personality-based explanation cannot account for such physical manifestations. Lastly, many witnesses tend to report many small details which are identical to other unrelated witness accounts, and this during the period prior to when the so-called CE4 became part of popular culture. A personality-based explanation cannot account for such cognitive similarities. The inclusion of the electromagnetic component to the personality-based findings, however, can provide some explanations for the simultaneous events, and the physical manifestations. Yet, from a statistical standpoint, such conjunction of event should be quite rare. In the end, there are still missing elements to any serious explanation. The ETH could, in theory, provide them but the ETH is pure conjecture as there is no physical evidence to support it.

The necessity to include parapsychology

Schnabel presents some of the key views of what he called the “psi school,” which appears to be in a better position to account for the missing explanatory elements to the UFO abduction syndrome. It is in this context that research in parapsychology becomes useful for understanding the UFO abductee phenomenon. As Schnabel notes, the UFO abduction scenario is very similar to other paranormal stories, and the content such stories can be explained in part by the empirical research in the parapsychology, and thus pointing towards a fundamentally human origin of these experiences.

“The literature in demonology, ghosts, and sorcery was full of examples where different people had experienced the same imagery, despite that imagery being non-photogenic. The mechanism was unknown but it seemed clear, from anecdotal evidence as well as from parapsychological ‘remote-viewing’ experiments, that two persons with sufficient empathy and/or psychic ability could communicate information to one another through unconscious telepathy, perhaps involving the same dominant-subordinate principle as that involved in mass hysteria. In cases where two or more people ‘experienced’ a close-encounter, telepathic transmission of imagery might be facilitated by the altered-state inducing factors which triggered the encounter in the first place. [...] According to the psi school, UFO abductees were people whose electromagnetic or crisis-induced or spontaneous altered-state experiences had been made to conform to the abduction lore by archetypical or cultural imagery, and by abduction researchers harbouring their own stereotyped imagery, who remained blithely ignorant of the damage they were inflicting on their subjects’ pliant minds”. (p. 148-149).

As one can notice, this description is very close to the PEMIE model I developed in earlier posts, but like most other researchers, Schnabel does not provide much explanation about what he means by “archetypical or cultural imagery” and how such imagery comes about in these experiences. Once, again, it is clear that there parasociology is needed to provide a more comprehensive explanation.

Schnabel summarizes his views about the UFO abduction syndrome as follow:

“[...] I find it difficult to ignore the evidence that, as far as UFOs themselves are concerned, there is something real and strange out there. But I also find it difficult to ignore the phenomenological, sociological, psychological, and apparent parapsychological links between alien abductions and a host of other unusual experiences. I am impressed by the evidence that these experiences have been with us for ages, never far from the levers of history, even though their actual nature has tended to be obscured by religious zealots and scientistic scoffers alike.” (p. 283).

Meaning and belief system: a methodological challenge

There is a particular point that Schnabel brings that requires special attention. He illustrates very well one of the fundamental difficulties of researching UFO, and close encounters in particular. Witnesses, as individuals or as part of a group, experience something extraordinary, and whatever one can say about it, it is something that was felt and lived at the time of the event. In other words, such event has a meaning and a symbolic force that is ultimately only available in full to the witnesses themselves. As he wrote, “I think that none of these terms can express adequately the strangeness conveyed by an abductee’s personal history, a history not as God or a fly on the wall has seen it but as the abductee has seen it, as she told it, as she has crafted—and I say this somewhat agnostically—her own mythology.” (p. 245).

But such meaning is usually acquired across time. The cultural and individual predispositions to see aliens versus fairies, for instance, are pre-event forces that will affect the meaning attached to it. Then, the post-event sharing with other people in abductees’ closer and wider social environment (to include ETH ufologist) is also contributing to shape the meaning given to the event. Further events of the same nature will just reinforce whatever meaning has been attributed to original event. The net result of all this is that the researcher, in most situations (and especially now that UFOs and aliens stories are firmly entrenched in the popular culture), is facing someone with particular beliefs and expectations about their experience. Metaphorically, the researcher is not facing a witness, but an emotionally-driven participant to a cultural trend. Such research work, thus, is not about finding “objective” facts like a detective, but much closer to an anthropologist trying to understand how other people make sense of their own reality.

This situation can be quite frustrating. From the serious people who wrote about it, and from my own experience of interviewing witnesses, I can say that if one’s line of questioning is not somehow congruent with the ETH, most witnesses will shut down. This is a serious difficulty from a methodological standpoint. Any data that would help to provide a wider meaning to the event are unconsciously evacuated by the witnesses, and anyone trying to solicit them is not welcomed because it could shatter the cherished meaning their ascribed to the event, which in turn has been fully integrated into their own self-concept as whom they are as individual. If you do not participate in the myth, then you are out of it. Schnabel eloquently described this issue:

“I listened to such stories with fascination and some sympathy, but also with frustration, for I suspect that participation in the underwordly experiences of Lucy and Nicole and their scarred sisters and brothers was off-limit to mortals like me. No sloe-eye alien, no sulphur-breathing rapist, would allow me to watch him at work or at play, or even sit for an interview. I could experience only the presence of morosely cheerful storytellers, and their stories, and their stories of stories” (p. 258).

The cultural and myth-making dimensions of the UFO abduction syndrome have already been studied by a number of anthropologists, folklorists, and sociologists. In many ways, there is little need to add to such body of literature. Given the widespread cultural expectations of UFO abductees towards the ETH, as described above, conducting empirical studies on this topic becomes decreasingly interesting for anyone engaged in understanding the underpinnings of the UFO experience. This shows, ultimately, that researching the UFO phenomenon is not something static both, epistemologically and methodologically.

Eric Ouellet © 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Parasociology: An update

After over a year of active posting, it is time to provide a comprehensive update as to where parasociology stands. I think it is possible to say that the foundations, challenges and future opportunities are now better known, and that the research agenda is clearer. As well, it is possible to affirm that the case of UFOs and related phenomena remains a useful test case for the new discipline.

UFOs and parasociology

Most theories in ufology have a limited empirical base to support their arguments, and it is especially true for the ETH. The ETH being a materialist hypothesis (nuts and bolts spaceships and flesh and blood aliens) require a fundamental material proof, which has not been found so far. Any other discussions about what a spaceship or an alien could or should look like can only be conjectures in the context of such materialist hypothesis. This fundamental incoherence of the ETH should be enough for any serious researcher to stay away from what the ETH has produced so far. As well, most of the empirical data is at best shallow and purely descriptive and at worst built in a Hume-like empiricist construct that forgoes any non-superficial explanation. It is therefore critical for parasociology to start from what is known to investigate the unknown.

A number of serious ufological authors (Randles 1983; Hufford 1977; Schwartz 1983; Spencer 1994) have clearly showed that there is an ontological difference between seeing an unknown object in the sky and having an encounter with non-human entities (believed to be of extra-terrestrial origin). As well, these two types of experience are oftentimes quite different from a phenomenological standpoint. It is therefore important to distinguish them appropriately. Yet, if one looks at the existing evidence, it is not possible to clearly separate physical and psycho-social dynamics, as one or both can be present in their entire spectrum from CE1 to CE3.

Some dynamics part of a larger explanation

The research has found so far that a somewhat material reality is present, and that unusual electromagnetism is often at play. A number of authors have noted that electromagnetism, either natural or artificial, is often associated with UFOs as well as with other ostentatious psi phenomena (Braud & Dennis 1989; Brovetto & Maxia 2008; Budden 1995, 1998; Devereux 1982; Fort 1923; Foshufvud 1980; Hecht & Dussault 1987; Keel 1968; Klass 1966a, 1966b; Persinger 1975, 1979, 1987, 1990; Persinger & Koren 2001; Pelegrin 1988; Poher & Vallée 1975; Schaut & Persinger 1985; Shneiderman 1987).

Common Narrative Structure
Other authors (Evans 1984; Favre 1978; Graystone 1969; Harvey-Wilson 2001; Keel 1975; Rogo 1982; Vallée 1969, Viéroudy 1978b) have noted that sightings of ETs are showing the same deep narrative structure as other non-ET apparition experiences, which points towards a common psycho-social dynamics. They tend to agree that the content of such experiences appear to be idiosyncratic and that the invariant is the structure of the experience rather than the content. To reject their arguments would require that one must explain why Marian apparitions, CE3, hauntings, etc., have so much in common while the witnesses would be supposedly dealing with completely different types of non-human entities. I am not aware of any ET ufologists or spiritualists that can offer a valid critique to reject the arguments of the authors mentioned above. As far as our knowledge extends, it is possible to say that the witnesses are somehow stimulated by an external source and they then provide the content of the experience, either through psi effects or by means of post-event interpretation.

Psychokinesis as human activity
One possible counter-argument would be that we, human, can only detect non-human entities through psi means, and that those means are always mixing up the signal with our cultural and social referents. The problem with this counter-argument is that it is improvable, as discussed in the last post. As well, we know based on the research on PK and RSPK (Fodor 1959; Gauld & Cornell 1979; Geley 1924; Heath 2003; Houran & Lange 2001; Lucadou & Zahradnik 2004; Osty & Osty 1932; Owen 1964; Puhle 2001; Rogo 1977, 1987; Roll 1972, 2003; Roll & Persinger 2001), including the Philip Experiment (Owen & Sparrow 1976), that the human mind can influence matter, to include creating or teleporting object and temporary apparitions of non-human entities through psychokinetic means. The central issue here is that any explanation of these strange events does not require the participation of any non-human entities. This is part of what is known, while hypothesizing the existence of ETs, surviving souls of the death people, etc. remain to this very day only improvable hypotheses. However hard this may be to accept for the believers, this is reality.

Belief and acceptance of the paranormal
Another dynamics could be generally labelled as “belief”, but understood as a general acceptance, consciously or unconsciously, of the possibility of paranormal events. Such belief has been found critical in a number of ways and linked to the witnesses’ prior experience (Basterfield 2001; Basterfield & Thalbourne 2001; Heath 2003; Keel 1988; Lucadou 1995; Phillips 1993; Schmeidler 1952; Spanos et al. 1993; Wiseman & Smith 1994). At a sociological level, the role of prior plausibility structures has also been shown as important in providing the basic material for making sense of these experiences (Bishop 2005; Carroll 1985; Fernandes & D’Armada 2005; Goode 2000; Méheust 1978; David-Néel 1929; Winkelman et al 1982). Furthermore, as belief plays a key role, the distinction between fraud and genuine effect has been found as unhelpful, as fraud and cheating is often necessary to stimulate genuine effects (Batcheldor 1984; Fodor 1958, 1959; Hansen 2001; Reihart 1994; Schrenck Notzing 1913). It is also quite clear that the unconscious dimensions of such belief plays the most important role in producing such effects (Eisenbud 1983; Favre 2004; Fodor 1958, 1959; Jung 1958, 1964 Rhine 1954), and therefore witnesses can be active participants in these events without even be aware of it, while attributing the events to an external force (like ETs, Virgin Mary, ghosts, etc.).

There are two types of triggers that have been identified to explan how involuntary psychokinetic effects are created. The first one has been covered in the RSPK literature cited above, and relates to micro social dynamics dysfunctions, as well as personal trauma (Reiner 2004).The second set of triggers identified is related to macro social dynamics, which have been described as either expressions of a collective unconscious or national gestalt (Broad 1953; Clark & Coleman 1975; Fodor 1959; Freixedo 1977; Fuller 1980; Kottmeyer 1996; Radin 2006; Vallée 1992; Viéroudy 1978a), as activation of archetypical numinosity and synchronicity (Brunstein 1979; Combs & Holland 1996; Fowler 2004; Jung 1958, 1964; Rojcewicz 1987; Viéroudy 1983), or as telepathically shared events (Gurney, Myers & Podmore 1886; Orme-Johnson et al 1988; Schwartz 1983; Warcollier 1928, 1962). The diversity of explanation to make sense of the macro social triggers points to the equivocal empirical knowledge on this issue. The question, however, is not a matter as whether such macro social trigger exists as the evidence pointing in that direction is quite strong, but it is rather how does it work?

Challenges and opportunities

To answer this last question, a number of avenues have been explored. One of them was to establish a closer linkage between the individual unconscious and a collectively shared unconscious. If the sociological notion of collective consciousness and the psychoanalytical notion of collective unconscious shared the same intellectual origin (Greenwood 1990; Staude 1976), the empirical evidence to link them is sparse. From a bottom-up perspective, the tradition called group analytic offers good evidence of the impact of the collective consciousness on the individual unconscious (Dalal 2001; Furth 1992; Weinberg, Nuttman-Shwartz & Gilmore 2005; Zeddies 2002), to include creating possible psi effects (Powell 1991; Thygesen 2008). From a top-down perspective, some social scientists showed that the collective unconscious influences the individual unconscious (Anderson 1983; Castoriadis 1975; Ginach 2004; Irwin 1994; Leledakis 1995; Lévy-Strauss 1963; Machotka 1964; Senghaas-Knobloch & Volmerg 1988). There are no known researchers, however, who attempted to provide an articulated explanation as to how the collective unconscious may create individual psi events. This issue remains the crux of the matter.

One of the key issues to move forward is to develop operational concepts for empirical research. Given the amorphous nature of what is described under the label “collective unconscious” and other similar labels, most methodologies can only provide approximations (Elias 1978; King 1996; Main 2006; Shewmaker & Berenda 1962). On the other hand, there are a number of PK phenomena (including UFOs) that can be pinpointed to specific physical events. Once again, there is here an obvious ontological discrepancy between two realms of reality which requires to be bridged. Psychoanalysis, anthropology and qualitative sociology have proposed to use symbolic interpretation to bridge similar gaps. It is a step forward, but it is clearly a one-way bridge that provides an incomplete answer. As Dean (2002) as shown, interpretation can be highly problematic and might be linked to the radically non-deterministic nature of human creativity, which in turn would preclude any bridging from epistemological standpoint.

There is, however, a promising lead in the concept of morphic field developed by Rupert Sheldrake (1981, 2006). It could provide the missing elements to complete the “ontological bridging”. It will be explored in a more detailed way in future posts.

Eric Ouellet ©2009