Monday, November 15, 2010

That's all folks! - Well, not really

13 May 2011

Dear all,

After discussing off line with a number of people, I decided to get back on. However, I will post not as regularly as I did. There might be weeks where I will have many posts, and then a break for a couple months, depending if I have something to report.



Dear readers,

After debating with myself for quite sometime now, I decided that it is time to put the parasociological project to rest.

As discussed in my post of 26 september 2010 "Parasociology: to be or not to be", the obstacles against the parasociological project are formidable, whether they are epistemological, conceptual, empirical or social. Someone else, more talented than me, will have to pursue this line of inquiry.

I would like to thank all those who provided comments and constructive criticism. I really appreaciated your support.

I will let the blog on for quite a while, so it will remain available for those interested in using the material therein.



Saturday, October 30, 2010

54th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association

54th Annual Convention
of the Parapsychological Association

Curitiba, Brazil

August 18-21, 2011

Program Chair: Marios Kittenis, Ph.D.

Local Host/Arrangements Chair: Fábio Eduardo da Silva

The Parapsychological Association (PA), will hold its 54th annual convention in Curitiba, Brazil on August, 18-21 2011. PA members, associates, and students from around the world will gather to present and discuss their latest research findings regarding psi (or ‘psychic’) experiences such as extra-sensory perception, psychokinesis, psychic healing and survival of bodily death. The convention, which is open to the public and academia alike, will offer a rare opportunity for attendees interested in that wide range of human functioning popularly known as the ‘psychic’ or ‘paranormal’ to hear the latest and most advanced scientific thinking about parapsychological topics.

Fábio Eduardo da Silva, who is a doctoral student in parapsychology at Universidade de São Paulo with Dr Wellington Zangari, will be the Local Host and the Arrangements Chair of the PA convention. Research Fellow at Aston University, Dr Marios Kittenis, who did his PhD on distant brain correlations under the late Prof. Bob Morris at Edinburgh University, will be the Program Chair for the event. The convention will be held in English, but simultaneous translation will be available for Portuguese-speaking attendees. Attention U.S. attendees: travel from the U.S. to Brazil requires a visa. Information about travel requirements can be found at the Brazilian Consulate.

In addition to holding the largest contingent of PA members outside of the US and Europe, Brazil contains a rich diversity of groups and individuals that engage in a range of paranormal approaches to healing. Curitiba, Brazil is a modern city that has attracted attention around the world for its innovations in sustainability and urban planning. Running alongside the PA convention, visitors to Curitiba may also attend UNIBEM’s 7th Psi Meeting (see last year’s details) and the 6th Journey into Altered States, which will provide attendees an opportunity to explore the experiential dimensions of Brazil's rich pro-paranormal culture in Curitiba.

Additional details about the 2011 PA convention will be released at as they become available.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The collective memory of Maurice Halbwachs

This post is exploring the concept of collective memory proposed by the classical French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs. This concept opens a number of interesting possibilities for the study of the social unconscious and social psi.

Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945) was a sociologist closely associated with the founders of the discipline Émile Durkheim, and especially Marcel Mauss. He was also an activist engaged in defending the rights of the working class and a socialist. Because of his political opinions, he was eventually deported to Buchwald by the Nazis during the occupation of France, where he died in March 1945. He is known for a number of sociological researches on the working classes between the two world wars, but he is also known for his concept of collective memory.

Collective memory

Halbwachs continued the work Émile Durkheim about the notion of collective consciousness. This notion became useful in sociology to describe mass phenomenon such as the transformation of worldviews during the industrial revolution, from a rural and agrarian setup to an urban and industrial context. Changes in collective behaviour are always accompanied by changes in collective thinking (and it is not necessarily useful to determine which one comes first). The same concept has been refined later on by people like Serge Moscovici to study smaller changes in group thinking/group behaviour like the adoption of psychoanalytical ideas by ordinary people in France during the 1950s. Moscovici described these lower level aspects of collective consciousness as social representations, but it is clear that he is continuing the work of Durkheim and Halbwachs.

For Halbwachs, the key question was how can we demonstrate the causal relationship between the collective consciousness, which can be found through relatively straightforward narrative analyses of common texts from a given society (newspapers, novels, speeches of respected people, etc.), and individual consciousnesses. Although people like to think they are free thinkers, their thinking is very much shaped by ways of thinking found in the society in which they live. The obvious example of this sociological phenomenon is strange lights in the sky were only construed as “alien spaceship” when space travel became part of common worldviews in the Western world. (For more on this, please refer to the seminal work of Bertrand Méheust on UFOs and science fiction). It was Durkheim who proposed that there was some sort of unconscious social memory (where the representations of the collective consciousness are “stored”) that influences the thinking and behaviour of individuals. Halbwachs went further in trying to define this concept of social memory and to show empirically that it is useful for understanding social behaviours.

To do so, he first challenged the prevalent ideas about memory in psychology (which was then, in France, very much materialist and much closer to neurology – and curiously this neurologic view of memory is quite dominant today in the English-speaking world). Memory, according to Halbwachs, is necessarily a social construct. When one remembers something it is always in relationship to his/her experience with others and codes of social conducts. The first thing people remember is whether the event X occurred while they were with others or by themselves. Furthermore, individual memory tends to be selective, as certain events are more important than others. But the degree of importance is assigned based on the social context (distinguishing what is exceptional from what is routine is always a matter of social situation). Furthermore, he anticipated the neurological research on memory in that as social beings, our views change as the social context around us changes too (child, young adult, parent, retiree, homeless, wealthy, etc), and our memories are re-constructed based on the present social context. Although Halbwachs lived before the age of ufology, his findings about the social nature of memories should be a reminder to anyone interviewing witnesses many years after an event.

Once again, an event that was construed at first as mysterious and unexplainable shortly after it occurred can become "explained" as an alien encounter or a Marian apparition once this idea becomes a common one in the collective consciousness. The alien or Marian “explanation“ of the event is not an explanation but rather an expression of new collective representations. These explanations are expressions of their time and society. In other words, individual memory is also a social artefact.

The social nature of individual memories helps explaining how social memories are constructed. Collective in various societies also retains only specific social events because they were socially meaningful at the time, but as time passes some events disappear from the common social representations while others have their meaning changed. A clear example is colonialism. Up to the 1950s, the exploits of colonial adventurers where celebrated across the Western world (and in the United States, John Wayne impersonated those adventurers on the silver screen), where now these adventurers are either forgotten, or represented as the bad guys killing innocent people (once again, in the United States the best example is probably George Custer, from falling hero to unsuccessful actor in a genocide campaign). Memories, whether individual or collective, are reconstructions based on present social identity, social conventions, and social values and norms.

Mechanisms of collective memory

Halbwachs looked empirically as to how the actual memory selection within a collective and the transmission from the collective to the individual occur. He focussed on three social institutions: the family, religious communities, and social classes. His work was both quantitative and qualitative, and essentially showed how socialization of collective memory is done through these institutions. The process is very much similar to the one of transmission of myths explored later on by Claude Lévy-Strauss

From the point of view of parasociological research, it is a useful reminder that the social unconscious, (for more see), where it is assumed that social psi could emerge, is constructed through the early phases of a collective memory creation. It would be at this very moment that particular emotional “imprints” occur, while the actual social processes of keeping the memory alive brings an evolution as to how events are perceived and interpreted.

As a short but important digression here, the concept of “imprint” has been developed by the biologist Konrad Lorenz and used by others to assess some deep cultural differences between various countries. Although controversial, Clothaire Rapaille turned this idea into an effective management consulting model for large businesses. Ultimately, this notion of “imprint” is linked to the notion of collective unconscious, as it is a way to describe what remains in terms of affects.

Overtime, the discrepancy between the imprint and the ongoing memory reconstruction might cause a significant gap, leading to either transitional or abrupt “corrections”, which in the latter case (and only in some particular instances) might take the form of a social psi event.

If one looks back at the French 1954 UFO wave, it is possible to see the French defeat of Dien Bien Phu in May and the subsequent peace accord in July as causing a significant social imprint about the “end of colonialism is near”. And it is important to note that colonialism was the key prism used by Europeans to establish their collective identity (linked to the infamous notion of the "white men's burden). Yet, by then the French government started to worry about its most important colony, Algeria, leading to significant increases in social investments in the colony by early November 1954. This led also to the famous quote by François Mitterand “Algeria is France”, and a long protracted conflict to keep the colony, which eventually France lost, not because of military defeat—they actually won on the ground—but because the French society had enough of colonialism. The peak of the UFO wave occurred at the junction of these events, in fact at the very moment when the FLN was created in October 1954—unknown to public—until the FLN insurgents' campaign started in November.

Collective memory, social unconscious and social psi

Halbwachs classical research on collective memory offers an interesting sociological hypothesis to assess the content of the collective consciousness and how imprinting events may cause serious dissonance in the social unconscious. These situations of significant imprint do not occur that often in a society. In other words, not all social events create imprint having a significant impact. As well, not all imprints cause necessarily significant and abrupt social dissonance. This helps to narrow down the number of social events that may be linked to social psi effects like UFO waves, and turn this into researchable hypotheses.

For instance, it is clear that 9/11 was an imprinting event in the American society, but it not was dissonant, and it was not associated with any obvious social psi effect. The events of 9/11 were a reminder that many people in the world have very negative opinions about the United States (something known by many Americans—to the point of putting Canadian flags on their backpack when travelling). Terrorism being the most extreme form of such negative opinion.

And so, the country was at war again. Yet, the United States is at war since WWII. First, it was at war against Germany and Japan, then against communism up to 1990, then against the drug cartels up to 9/11. The so-called “war on terror”, an expression calling upon the collective memory and yet re-interpreted in light of current events, is very much a continuation of “normalcy”. If there is a counter reaction to all this, it is  a conscious one through the so-called “Truthers movement” that sees 9/11 as an American engineered conspiracy to find another war. 9/11, a horrific event with a significant emotional charge, was congruent with the social consciousness, memory and unconscious of the American society. The lack of substantive UFO events before 9/11 is consistent with this lack of dissonance.

Eric Ouellet © 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The 1954 French UFO wave

This post proposes a mini case study of the 1954 French UFO wave. It is in part inspired by the work of Aimé Michel in his book Flying Saucers and the Straight-Line Mystery, published in English version in 1958 [1]. However, instead of analyzing the events as recollected by Michel through his orthoteny hypothesis, the Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI) will be used as a background model [2]. Furthermore, some interesting parallels can be established with the previously posted case studies of the 1952 Washington D.C. events and the Canadian UFO wave of 1966-67.

The data

In an online article [3], Donald A. Johnson uses the UFOCAT catalogue and note that the number of UFO sightings for the year 1954 is 3,015, of which about 58% occurred in Europe. The wave was indeed worldwide, but it had a particular peak in October with nearly a third of all sightings (961) in Europe alone. Of those 961 European cases, 750 occurred in the skies of France, with one particular peak on 3 October and another one on 15 October with about 80 sightings for each date. Hence, it is fair to say that the wave was centred over France, although it was not exclusive to France.

If one looks at the report using the Hynek classification, then it is nearly 28% of all sightings for 1954 that can fit the close encounter (CE) category. According to Johnson, the number of CE1 in October for France and Belgium was 96, 53 CE2, and 78 CE3, for a total of 227 CEs. In other words, almost one-third of all French UFO cases for October 1954 were CEs. This proportion is comparable to the one found in the previously posted case study about the Canadian UFO wave of 1966-67 where just above one-third of cases where CEs. However, in the Canadian cases there was more CE2 than CE3.

These numbers are interesting because it is always difficult to identify what constitutes a UFO wave. In both the Canadian and French cases, the number of CE is around 30-35%. This provides an interesting benchmark to assess the intensity of a UFO wave. From that point of view, UFO wave are getting very rare because CEs are almost completely gone from sightings as Chris Rutkowsky noted on his blog recently.

The overall 1954 UFO wave as well as its French portion were following the usual pattern of a slow start ramping up in August and September, peaked in October and steep drop in November. The numbers for Europe and France, based on Johnston’s figures, are as follow:

Month / Europe / France

Jan / 24 / 15
Feb / 9 / 4
Mar / 5 / 1
Apr / 12 / 7
May / 24 / 5
Jun / 22 / 7
Jul / 45 / 12
Aug / 109 / 42
Sep / 305 / 217
Oct / 961 / 750
Nov / 193 / 84
Dec / 47 / 15
Year / 1,756 / 1,159

This distribution is similar to the 1952 wave where in that case the peak was in July. This distribution also replicates von Lucadou’s findings about RSPKs. This general tendency for recurrent anomalistic phenomena can be explained in part by social factors. As a phenomenon is reported in the general press, an accumulation of news clipping can create a sense that there is something going on. Then natural phenomena are reported as UFOs, and hoaxers feel compelled to do their part as well. The mass media can create such snow ball effect, but also can create the demise of a phenomenon by expecting more and more until it cannot “give” anymore, then the press and its readership looses interest. This usually leads to a quick decline in sightings. This effect is well known to those who in communication studies under the name “bandwagon effect” [4].

The key here is to remember that the bandwagon effect can explain the reporting effects and overall distribution, but it cannot explain the relatively high number of CEs. To see a strange light in the night (NL) or a far away object in the sky during the day (DD) has a different qualitative nature than seeing “things” up close. Mistakes are quite possible when it comes to NL and DD, but much less likely for CEs. The only way that the bandwagon effect would extend to CEs is to imply that they are hoaxes and lies. Interviews with multiple witnesses, coming from a wide variety of background and who have no objective reasons to lie, do not warrant such speculations. Hence, a significant number of CEs, assuming they are properly investigated and classified, constitutes a key indicator for the “paranormal” variable in the case of UFOs.

As stated in many previous posts, both Fodor [5]about RSPKs, and Batcheldor [6] for group PK, found that hoaxes and tricks can actually help inducing psi effects by making them unconsciously believable. From a parasociological standpoint, the variations in intensity of paranormal phenomenon and the level of public interest for such phenomenon should be seen as co-variations (or inter-dependent variables) rather than as a zero-sum game. This is where the “true” believers in the psycho-social hypothesis fails to explain anything by speculating that a phenomenon must be either true or false; empirical evidence shows that anomalistic phenomena are mixed realities.

One or two (or more) systems

One of the interesting findings of my analyses of the 1952 events over Washington D.C. and the 1966-67 Canadian UFO wave is that there seems to be more than one system at play when it comes to UFO waves. Given that all these waves, including the one of 1954, are more or less worldwide, it seems that there are global conditions for UFO wave to emerge. These conditions also enable events to occur in sub-systems, like the concentration of sightings in France in October 1954, that develop their own dynamics. It is not possible to determine if the UFO worldwide events are caused by a dynamics of the same nature as the ones more local, nor is it possible to determine if they interact. In other words, the reasons for a concentration of sightings in France can be enabled by the worldwide conditions, while still having its own independent dynamics. In any event, as for the Canadian wave, a multi-system approach appears to be suited for understanding complex phenomena that are both local and global.

The issue of dates

The dates in a UFO wave appear to be even more important in light of the events of October 1954. October 1954 is the month when the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) was created by a group of anti-colonial insurgents in Algeria. As we now know, the FLN waged an extensive political and armed struggle to free Algeria from French colonial rule. This led to a bitter conflict involving more than 500,000 French soldiers, countless victims in Algeria and something that shook deeply the French society. Although the French Army won on the ground, the FLN won the political battle about immorality of colonialism and Algeria gained its independence in 1962. What happen in October 1954 was not known to the French public, and even the FLN actions of November 1954 did not appear to be anything threatening.

Hence, like what was found in the Canadian case studies, intense UFO sightings occurred while key decisions are taken that will have a very significant impact for the collective future but that they are not yet known to the larger public. It is also possible to note that the Global Consciousness Project observed serious deviations in their networked random generators in the hours prior to 9/11. These various cases can be interpreted as the collective unconscious made aware of impeding threat and uses paranormal means to express it.

Some may argue like Kottemeyer [7] that it is the lost of collective self-esteem that is behind major UFO waves. He noted that the French defeat in Indochina was the likely source of the French 1954 UFO wave. But the dates do not add up for Indochina. The battle of Dien Bien Phu was in May 1954, and the war was officially over by July. The war in Indochina was far from the preoccupations of French people, while Algeria was another story. Algeria was administratively part of metropolitan France, and had over 1 million of non-Muslim citizens who eventually became refugees in France. As well, in Indochina the French Army was made of volunteers and colonial troops, while in Algeria it was mostly made of conscripts and reservists. The Algerian conflict was, in many ways, very close to home. Kottemeyer’s hypothesis is interesting but it does not fit the 1954 French wave.

Going beyond RSPKs

If collective precognition of decisions leading to major social and political events is an important condition to have large scale paranormal events, then the analysis of the 1952 wave would require some adjustment. This is one of the implications of the findings from the 1954 and 1966-67 UFO waves. There are, however, no apparent major decisions taken in the United States in July 1952 that would have substantial consequences for the future (and the same can be said about the 1957 American UFO wave). The only significant event in 1952 that is synchronistic to the phenomenon remains the Democratic convention. Maybe a more general condition of “what cannot be said publically” either because it is a premonition or some people are muzzled would be more accurate. It would not contravene with the general principles upon which the MPI is built, but it would require generalizing the findings of the MPI. The implications are that paranormal events remain linked to social dynamics, be it small or large scale, but the dynamic for RSPK is just a particular application of the MPI. The reason as to why pragmatic information cannot be expressed through normal means (e.g. angry and unable to express emotion teenager) should not lead us to create special models for every occasion. Hence, UFO events may not be large scale aerial RSPKs after all, but rather they are non-normal expressions of unconsciously held information.


[1] Michel, Aimé. (1958). Flying Saucer and the Straight-Line Mystery. New York: Criterion Books.

[2] For a good overview of the MPI please see, Lucadou, Walter von and F. Zahradnik. (2004). “Predictions of the Model of Pragmatic Information about RSPK”. Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association Convention 2004.

[3] Johnson, Donald A. (2009). “The Worldwide UFO Wave of 1954”. On Internet at

[4]See the references at the end of this entry on Wikipedia:

[5] Fodor, Nandor. (1958). On the Trail of the Poltergeist. New York: Citadel Press.

[6] Batcheldor, Kenneth J. (1984). “Contributions to the theory of PK induction from sitter-group work”. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 78(2): 105-122.

[7] Kottmeyer, Martin. (1996). “UFO Flaps”. The Anomalist 3 (1995-1996): 64-89.

Eric Ouellet © 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Parasociology: to be or not to be

Today's post is an editorial reflecting on parasociology, which may be an impossible science.

The problem of proof in the study of anomalies is a particularly difficult one. As discussed in many previous posts, one of the common characteristics of these so-called paranormal phenomenon is their elusiveness. Whether it is UFOs, Bigfoot sightings, ghosts, poltergeists, lake monsters and various other types of apparitions, and micro psi effects, they never leave irrefutable proof that such phenomena exist. The evidence is made of witnesses accounts or weak statistical deviations from normal and, at best, faint and equivocal physical evidence open to interpretation. This is the ontological part of the problem.

Then there is the epistemological part. All forms of knowledge, to be considered as such, require that a community vouch for it. The stronger, in social and political terms, the community is, the stronger their sanctioning will be for a given knowledge. In the modern world, one of the strongest communities that determines whether something should be called knowledge is the one built around the social institution of science. Anomalies are often associated, by default, with superstitions and religious thinking, both of which are at the core of what science rejects. Any social institution needs to be legitimized to survive and justify its special powers it has over a given society. Modern science maintains its social legitimacy by “protecting the uneducated masses” from superstitions. From a sociological standpoint, the sceptic movement plays a normative role in trying to protect the legitimacy of science, so it can preserve its special power of determining what is knowledge. As long as the study of anomalies is associated with superstitions, social recognition is not likely to occur. That is the epistemological problem from the “right flank”.

The epistemological problem from the “left” flank is that the main support for the study of anomalies is coming from “true believers” who have all the appearances of superstitious people. The study of ghosts, past lives memories, poltergeists, near death experiment is very often motivated by people trying to prove the survival of the soul after death. The ETH approach in ufology, the study of Bigfoot, lake monsters, and various other types of apparitions is very much similar to ancient studies of angels and demons. The fact that many people in these fields mimic the scientific method does not change anything, it is only mimickery. Hence, the closer one gets to the true believers the more he or she will face rebukes from the scientific establishment. Yet, if one does not seek the other metaphysical goal of “protecting the uneducated masses”, then it will not get the support of the scientific establishment either. Anyone who wants to study anomalies without seeking metaphysical goals on either side has indeed very few friends. This reminds me of someone else.

Some may argue that the way out of this conundrum would be to develop a new and fresh empirical database that integrates elusiveness in the data collection and that can show parasociological cause and effect. Unfortunately, cause and effect in the social realm are not of the same nature as in physical sciences. Macroscopic phenomena can only be assessed in broad strokes, and the linkages to specific situations are always open to interpretation. Then, if one adds that specific situations have a physical dimension, like a series of UFO sightings, then we may face a situation of “a bridge too far”.

And then, just to make matters worst, one of the most interesting approach to study psi phenomena is based on the notion of non-local correlations, which is based on the very idea that there are no directly observable cause-and-effect when it comes to psi. The relationship can only be found through a detailed assessment of how events unfold, which of course can be assessed in many different ways. The circle is fully squared. I might just blow-up the bridge, that might be too far any way.

The time might not be right for dealing with the UFO phenomenon, and here I mean try to explain, not just describe or fantasizing about visitors from out space. Jacques Vallée is about to release a new book with co-author Chris Aubeck. Even Vallée seemed to have given up explaining and produced a book making yet another listing of famous sightings. I sincerely hope that I am wrong on this one.

In any event, maybe parasociology should be construed as something along the lines of cultural studies, rather than parapsychology, where multiple interpretations is part of the “normal business”.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

More lessons from pioneers – The World of Flying Saucers

This post is looking into another pioneer of UFO research, but this one was the “Dr. Evil” of ETH ufology: Donald H. Menzel. He published a major book on UFOs in 1963, looking back at 15 years of ufology, and most of what he wrote could be applied today, now looking back at (almost) 65 years of ufology. Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil.... The full notice is:

Menzel, Donald H. and Lyle G. Boyd. (1963). The World of Flying Saucers: A scientific examination of a major myth of the space age. New York: Doubleday.

Flying saucers are real! (but first you have to believe in ET)

Donald Menzel (1901-1976) was much vilified by the ETH ufological community (even today, nearly 35 years after his death), but it is to wonder how many ETH believers even bothered to open one of his books. Menzel’s main concern was the lack critical thinking in the world of UFOs, and not so much to prove that every single UFO sighting can be explained by a down-to-earth explanation. In other words, it was first and foremost a matter of education, not of ufological method. If one fails to understand his central argument, then one does not understand what Menzel was writing about.

This lack of critical thinking is described in his book as the “saucerdom”, a world where anything not readily identifiable as a known flying object is immediately considered as a spaceship visiting planet Earth. In the saucerdom, the full meaning of “unidentified” or “unknown” is ignored so that flying objects are immediately re-identified as spaceships. In a colourful way, he described this issue as follow: “When told there’s a horse in the bathtub, for example, the sensible man realizes that the visitation, while not impossible, is extremely improbable. Therefore he does not immediately begin speculating on the color of the horse, where it might have come from, what its purpose may be, and whether it will wreck the bathroom. Instead, he adopts the scientific method and first goes to find out whether the horse is really there” (p. 3).

A number of ETH ufologists have pointed out that they do investigate and they found “something” in the bathtub, hence considering Menzel’s argument as irrelevant. But these ETH ufologists missed the point, some of them purposefully. The point is that many people in the general public are willing to accept any story about “spaceships” on its face value. More importantly, without such credulity in the public many ufologists would not have been able to have a career simply because there would be no one to buy their books. In other words, for most ETH ufologists it is in their vested interest to keep the saucerdom alive, because they depend on it. Hence, for Menzel, one should not count on the ETH ufologists to show intellectual integrity; it is against their objective interest.

The saucerdom, 50 years later, is doing quite well with the hundreds of fake UFO pictures and videos posted on the Internet annually, which always find an audience to believe them as true. Menzel was dealing with a real issue, and that issue has not gone away. If there is a critique to formulate against Menzel, however, it is his naive faith in reasoned discussions. The saucerdom is a belief system, and like any belief system it is impervious to any amount rational facts, proofs, or analyses.

Absence of evidence is evidence of absence of evidence

The second key issue that Menzel was dealing with was the lack of evidence to prove the extra-terrestrial origin of UFOs. As he wrote, “in the study of UFO phenomena this question of ‘evidence’ is crucial. The careful investigator tries always to distinguish sharply between an observed fact, which is evidence, and an interpretation of that fact, which is not evidence no matter how reasonable it may seem” (p. 4). And indeed, 50 years later we are in the same situation: “no data in these [military] unsolved cases suggest that the UFOs had an interplanetary origin or that they constitute a threat to the security of the United States. When Air Force investigators have determined that a UFO report does not represent anything of interest to Intelligence, their primary duty ends. However, since many UFO puzzles are of interest for scientific or technical reasons, the investigators try to find the specific explanation of each case and, if it has attracted public attention, give the final solution to press” (p. 275).

What does this mean is that when you have a “stubborn unknown,” military investigators are short of facts too, and they provide what they think to be the best interpretation. In other words, this is not the “truth” but educated speculations. Menzel was often accused by ETH ufologists of using the notion of thermal inversion to “debunk” cases, but he was simply doing educated speculation. ETH ufologists (the serious ones, anyway) are doing the same: educated speculations. The very existence of “stubborn unknown” is created by a lack of evidence that might decide which speculation is the most likely. This simple issue was quickly lost in the fray.

The lack of evidence of the ET origin of UFOs, and the fact that they do not represent a threat to national security is a conclusion that has been re-confirmed by many other governments since Menzel passed away, in particular Canada, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Russia, and Chile. Each of these countries, through their own agencies, research agendas, and set of cases came to a similar conclusion. If it is not good enough to say that we have evidence of absence of evidence, then nothing will be good enough. This brings us back to the saucerdom as belief system; let’s not waste our time engaging in reasoned discussions with people who do not care about reason (in spite of claiming to the contrary).

Open Minds, Closed Skies (and your taxes)

In his later years MEnzel became much flexible, probably unconsciously, as he was certainly frustrated by being unable to engage in serious discussions with people in the field of ufology. Surrounded and constantly attacked by quasi-religious believers he responded in kind: nothing in ufology is worth considering. His exasperation was understandable, but it undermined his cause. Yet, Menzel, originally, was much more open minded that he was portrayed by ETH ufologists. He wrote that “the creative scientist, eternally curious, keeps an open mind toward strange phenomena and novel ideas, knowing that we have only begun to understand the universe we live in. He remembers, too, that Biot’s discovery that meteorites were ‘stone from the sky’ was at first greeted with disbelief, and he hopes never to be guilty of similar obtuseness. But an open mind does not mean credulity or a suspension of the logical faculties that are man’s most valuable asset” (p. 289). He was seeking to have a level-headed debate, but he was not heard.

Menzel was also exasperated by the conspiracy theories that were already having lot of credence in the saucerdom in the early 1960s. As Menzel wrote, “the Air Force has found no evidence of any kind that anyone has ever seen, heard, smelled, photographed, touched, or in any way detected a trace of an interplanetary spacecraft. Extraterrestrial visitors have not yet arrived, and may never arrive. If and when they do, our Air Force wants to be the first to know. [...] The Air Force cannot afford to guess what is in our skies. They want to know” (p. 289). What Menzel is saying here is that the military are not the enemy, and that they investigated UFO sightings for pragmatic reasons. Yet, if you find nothing after investigating for quite some time, then it is time to do something else. The military and various government agencies are not “Scooby Doo and the Gang” on public treasury payroll. How hard is it to understand? Scrapping publically-funded UFO shops after years of absence of evidence is just common sense, as it is to make the data available to those interested in studying anomalies. The Project Blue Book cases have been available for 35 years. Other countries have done the same since.

Concluding remarks

Menzel tried to keep discussions about UFO with the realm of reason, and as much as possible based on serious factual investigations. He certainly showed that the Project Blue Book’s finding that about only 5% of UFO sightings are true “unknown” was essentially correct. His debates with others also showed that those “unknown” remain “unknown” and that multiple explanations can co-exist, and that when one explanation is prevailing it is not because of the strength of the explanation but because of various psychological and sociological factors. In this context, his education campaign predictable failed for the reasons discussed above.

In this last year of the first decade of the 21st century, the saucerdom is very much alive and kicking, but as the writers of the RRRGroup noted on their various websites, there is very few substantive replacement to the old guard of ufology (all approach confounded). As well, as Chris Rutkowski Canada’s “UFO central”) noted, the phenomenon is becoming quite shy with almost no more new cases of close encounters (from 1 to 3). The direct impact of all this is that nowadays there is very little research conducted on UFOs, from an ETH perspective or otherwise.

The key, in my opinion, is not to wait that the phenomenon becomes more ostentatious, as it may never do. As well, it is critical not to repeat old mistakes. Any new research agenda should not try to engage the saucerdom; Menzel showed how futile this is. As well, Vallée in an interview noted that ufology is now back to something akin to the days of the “Invisible College”, but this time researchers are not hiding from the scientific establishment; they are hiding from the saucerdom. In light of Menzel’s experience, this seems to be the only meaningful approach for the foreseeable future.

Eric Ouellet © 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lessons from the pioneers – The Straight-Line Mystery

This post continues with having a second look at older thoughts and approaches that might be useful to the development of parasociology. Today, I am looking into Aimé Michel’s book on the French UFO wave of 1954. Michel was a “non-fiction” mystery writer, and was among the firsts in Europe to have a serious look at the UFO phenomenon. His first book, The Truth about Flying Saucers (published in English translation in 1954), was meant to be a wake-up call about the reality of UFOs. His second book about the Straight-Line Mystery was written in 1957 and published in English translation in 1958. Michel passed away in 1992. Michel is often mentioned in the works of another Frenchman, Jacques Vallée, and the two were good friends and were members of the so-called Invisible College. According to Vallée, Michel was one of the few in the early days of ufology to keep a cool but open-minded approach towards the phenomenon; an attitude that Vallée wanted to emulate. The full notice is:

Michel, Aimé. (1958). Flying Saucers and the Straight-Line Mystery. New York: Criterion Books.

It is all about the attitude

If one goes back in the 1950s, without the Internet, personal computers, or even without cheap long-distance plans, Michel did outstanding work, and Vallée’s admiration towards Michel is easily comprehensible. But, it is really for the attitude he brought to the study of UFOs that Michel should be remembered. His book is prefaced by a French Air Force General, (General L. M. Chassin) who was occupying a senior position in NATO HQ at the time (before France withdrew from the NATO unified command, and now has reintegrated). Clearly, people in government and the military are not the enemy; they were as baffled by the phenomenon as civilian researchers.

The most interesting part of his book is in the introduction, as he explains his approach and method. It is fascinating to read, more than 50 years later comments he made about what is going on in ufology that could apply very well today. No wonder there has been much progress since. Michel wrote: “Hitherto the only ‘study’ of saucers that has been possible has been the analysis of the reports of witnesses after sightings. But this is not the scientific method. The analysis of testimony properly belongs to the law courts and to history, which attempt to weigh human uncertainties; for the present at least, science cannot apply its methods there. This is not a deliberate refusal to do so, but merely an acknowledgement of the fact that science has its limitations” (p. 13).

In other words, it was clear for him, and it is for me, that the actual content of UFO sighting reports is not what will give us the answer to the phenomenon. This idea, as obvious as it may be, is still not fully understood in present-day UFO buff circles. I read, not that long ago on the web, a comment from an experienced UFO researcher where he is dreaming of digitizing all UFO reports from various key ufological organizations and do an extensive content analysis to figure out if we can deduce the propulsion system of UFOs. Not only this would be a gigantic waste of money, but this would not provide any answers, because it is based on what it is: reports by people of strange events very often collected by people who have a very narrow view as to what is relevant and what is not when it comes to UFOs.

Along the same train of thought, Michel continues by stating “if we study these five observations [that he mentions a few lines before] as isolated events, we are driven to the same inevitable conclusion that for ten years [i.e. 1947-1957] has blocked scientific study of the saucer phenomenon: if witnesses really saw what they described, it was a prodigious event, perhaps the most stupendous event in human history; but unfortunately, there is nothing to prove the truth of their accounts.” (p. 14).

Once again, I can only agree with Michel (50 years later), UFO events studied as isolated events will never yield anything. Yet, 50 years later it is still the norm in ufology. It is fundamental that one look into the phenomenon from a wider perspective, propose some hypothesis and try to validate such hypothesis. Michel proposed the notion of “orthoteny”, trying to show that UFOs travel in straight-lines when all the reports are studied as a collective event. There is no point here to dwell into the critiques against Michel’s approach. Indeed one has to fudge a bit the locations to find straight lines, and what he found does not occur in other UFO events. But the key here is the attitude of trying to go beyond the surface of individual sightings, and put the phenomenon into a larger context. This is actually the real scientific approach. The David Hume-style bottom-up empiricism (i.e. thinking that the “truth” can be extracted by dwelling into isolated cases) that exists in ufology has been rightfully described as pseudo-scientific. I really do not comprehend why it is so hard to understand.

In any event, it is quite clear why Vallée used Michel as a role model when he got seriously interested in UFOs in the 1960s. Vallée, although I do not agree with his control system explanation (as a sociologist I can say that what describes is very much something explainable through normal sociological analysis), has maintained an approach that is truly scientific in that he went much beyond the appearances of individual cases.

The early paranormal hypothesis

Michel is probably one of the firsts to propose a paranormal approach to the phenomenon, and he certainly had a fair bit of influence on Vallée in this respect. He was very much aware that even in his own research there are no substantive evidence beyond witnesses accounts to determine what these flying saucers are. As he wrote, “Is contact real, but invisible? This is our last, and most fascinating hypothesis. For it must be admitted that such a thing is not impossible. If contact between “them” and us were to occur on their level, rather than on ours, then, no matter what we do, it will forever remain imperceptible to us, just as most of our relationships with animals are altogether undiscoverable by them. Therefore, the answer to the question, “Why have we not had visitors from space?“ is perhaps this strangely simple one: “There seem to have been none because only our eyes see them, and not our consciousness, which is blind to them” (p. 230).

This text written in 1957 shows that the ETH had competition from day one and this competition came from someone who was displaying serious research efforts. As well, Michel’s last hypothesis summarizes, in my opinion, what Jacques Vallée will try to demonstrate in his ufological career from 1960 to the mid-1990s. The influence is quite clear. However, as stated in my last post, the PNH remains beyond verification because “they” would call all the shots. Michel understood this from the unset when he wrote: “no matter what we do, it will forever remain imperceptible to us”. This is the true challenge of the paranormal hypothesis.

Once again, what is important here is not such much whether this type of paranormal hypothesis is correct or not, even if it would be verifiable. It is rather this attitude of trying to look beyond the surface of a phenomenon; to seek deep patterns and dynamics and how they relate to other realities. If we are to understand the UFO phenomenon, it is imperative to maintain the scientific attitude to look beyond the surface displayed by people like Michel and Vallée.

Eric Ouellet © 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The key hypotheses in ufology

This post proposes a discussion on the various hypotheses in ufology, to clarify where parasociology stands on the issue. It is motivated by the writings of some people on the web who wrote some time ago that parasociology is a bizarre approach to UFOs. Well, I think these statements are made from a position of ignorance. Such ignorance, in turn, is probably enabled by the fact that most comprehensive overviews of what is going on in the field of UFO research are so misleading than one is likely to remain ignorant. For me, a key contributor to such a lack of clarity is the very unsatisfactory nature of typologies about ufological hypotheses. Most of the existing typologies do not go to the bottom of those ufological hypotheses, and they exclude a number of them. Ultimately, they depict a very warped and incomplete portrait of what is going on in ufology. The typology proposed under the label “Ufology” in Wikipedia is a prominent example of this.

The notions of hypothesis and typology

A hypothesis is essentially a temporary answer to a research question, which one tries to prove or disprove through reasoned investigation. In the case of UFOs, the main research question exists in various forms, but all versions of it are about the nature and origin of the phenomenon, which remain uncertain to this day. Hence, any hypothesis about UFOs is about ontology; to provide a temporary answer about what these things are to guide research and investigation. A typology, on the other hand, is a classification system that is based on the fundamental underpinnings of what is being classified. It is not a serendipity listing of what exists on a particular topic, which would be incomplete by definition as there are always new items to add to the list. Hence, a typology of ufological hypotheses requires looking into the fundamental underpinnings of these hypotheses.

The fundamental underpinnings

All hypotheses about UFOs, (i.e., statements by those who consider that phenomenon remains unexplained) are based on two sets of fundamental underpinnings. The first one is about the objective versus subjective nature of the phenomenon. Are UFOs real objects or are they real only in the mind of people? The second set, which is closely related to first one, is whether the phenomenon is the product of non-human entities or human sources. In this light, the key hypotheses in ufology can be regrouped in 4 generic hypotheses, although they should be seen as being part of spectrum rather than air-tight categories.

Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis (ETH)

The first one, the best known and most popular, and yet the one with least amount of evidence to support itself is the Extra-terrestrial Hypothesis (ETH). Put on a spectrum, it is the hypothesis that implies the highest degree of objectivity in the phenomenon (the “nuts and bolt” approach being its most extreme version). Older ETH ufology tends to be at the extreme, where there is little room for anything else but the “nuts and bolt”. Newer ETH authors admit (grudgingly) that there might be something a bit more subjective as the phenomenon might have also a paranormal aspect. Paranormal events being always unclear, fuzzy and on the borderline of normal perception are by definition more subjective than a physical “flying saucer”. Stanton Friedman is a good example of this position. A little bit further away from the extreme is the “ETH at the 2nd degree”, a concept developed by European ufologists who consider that UFOs are still physical spaceship, but the aliens can only connect to us through paranormal means given that there is so much psychological and cultural differences between us and them.

Paranormal Hypothesis (PNH)

Then, moving further away from the objective extreme is the Paranormal Hypothesis (PNH). The PNH implies that UFOs and aliens are paranormal manifestations produced by non-human entities (but not aliens from outer space). Given that UFOs are considered paranormal manifestation by the PNH, and that paranormal perceptions are always mixed up with the psychological and cultural frames of reference of the witnesses, the PNH accepts that the phenomenon requires to be understood also as something subjective. Authors like Jacques Vallée, John Keel, and Mac Tonnies are representative of this approach. The nature of the non-human entities can vary considerably from intra-terrestrial, inter-dimensional, to time-traveller and mythical intelligence.

Parapsychological Hypothesis (PPH)

Then, getting closer to the subjective end of the spectrum by explaining the phenomenon mostly through interactions between psi effects and psycho-social factors is what I call the Parapsychological Hypothesis (PPH). The PPH does not reject the notion that there is a material reality to UFOs, but it hypothesized that it is the product of the human mind, unconsciously using its psi capabilities. In this case, we cross the threshold human/non-human, as the PPH is defined by excluding the notion of non-human entities to explain the phenomenon. This is my approach, and the one of people like Bertrand Méheust, John Spencer and Hilary Evans.

Psycho-social Hypothesis (PSH)

Finally, there is the psycho-social hypothesis (PSH), which implies that there is no objective reality behind the phenomenon, but only subjective psychological and sociological constructions based on misperceptions and make-beliefs. This is the approach used by the more sophisticated debunkers.

Graphically, the typology can be represented as follow:

Typology as a useful tool

Typologies in science are not only created to provide comprehensive descriptions; they are also useful tools to assess research and establish priorities. The selection of the PPH as my approach to the UFO phenomenon is not only a matter of preference; it is actually a reasoned choice, because out of the four primary hypotheses, the PPH is the most promising one.

The ETH is, in theory, a verifiable hypothesis in that if a piece of material or organic tissue is found to be not from this world, then it can be validated. The problem, of course, is that the ETH ufologists have been banging their respective head against a wall of failure for over 60 years. They are literally waiting that the proof “fall from the sky” (or from a brown envelop...). Such attitude is not a scientific one. When a hypothesis fails to deliver after ongoing testing it means that it is not a valid approach and something else needs to be tried. To continue in such circumstances becomes a matter of faith and belief and no more of reasoned investigation.

The PNH is an interesting one, and it has the merit of highlighting the well-documented and central role of the paranormal dimension of the UFO experience, which is mostly ignored by representatives of the ETH, and by the PSH. The fatal flaw of the PNH is that it cannot be tested as it implies the existence of non-human entities that would call all the shots on how, where and when they can be seen. This is not testable from the point of view of the natural sciences, as the object requires a degree control and repeatability, and it cannot be tested from the point of view of the social sciences because we cannot use what we know about humans to understand the intents and motivations of the alleged non-human entities, given that they are not human. A non-testable hypothesis is not a hypothesis, it is speculation.

The PSH highlights important psycho-social dynamics that are clearly part of the overall phenomenon, but its representatives blatantly ignore the well-documented material evidence about UFOs. This fact alone fully undermines the validity of the overall hypothesis. The PSH, very much like the ETH, is closer to a belief system than reasoned investigations.

The PPH, on the other hand, is respectful of both the material and paranormal dimensions of the phenomenon by integrating them into the analysis. Furthermore, the parasociological version of the PPH is also able to integrate the psycho-social dynamics identified by the PSH, yet without ignoring the material reality of the phenomenon. Finally, contrary to the ETH and PNH, the PPH offers the possibility of being testable by using our knowledge of human beings from a variety of disciplines like (parapsychology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, etc.). All in all, the PPH is from rational standpoint the best bet for improving our understanding of UFOs.

In light of a clearer understanding of what is going in UFO research I return the question: who is bizarre here?

Eric Ouellet © 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reading Notes – Holographic Paradigm

This post is renewing with presenting my reading notes about books or articles that might be useful to the advancement of the parasociological hypothesis. These reading notes are, once again, about an older book but still part of many contemporary debates: the holographic “revolution”. The book is an edited collection that re-groups the key texts (mostly from the philosophy journal ReVision) from the early discussions about the holographic universe.

In the 1970s, two scientists developed separately the idea that the universe might be a hologram. The first one is the neurologist Karl Pribram, who discovered that the brain is organized in a non-linear way when it comes to storing information. His research, in many ways, fuelled the idea of virtual database that is now a current way of storing information in computer programming. What it means is that brain cells are not only carrying information, but also contain information about how information storing is actually structured. To take a simple example, if one finds a datum he/she may also find elements or traces of its “address”, and thus it gives him/her an idea about the size and how many dimension the entire information has. For instance, “x4x, xxx, 9x9” does not tell us where the datum fits exactly, but it can tell us that it is a three-dimension construct and each dimension has up to one thousand possible spots. Holograms that we can see in movie theatres are constructed that way. Not only there are elements of images, but each element has a “tag” so that the full image can be re-constructed to become meaningful. Hence, the “tag” itself carries also precious information about information structuring.

The second scientist is David Bohm, a theoretical physicist, who explained the paradoxes of non-locality in quantum physics by showing mathematically the possibility of a 5th dimension. This additional dimension is more than just one more layer to the matrix of reality. Like in the case of the brain, objects and other realities of our ordinary 4 dimensional world also carry information about how information is structured in the higher degree matrix with 5 dimensions. In both cases, by sampling enough brain cells or objects, one can gather some useful information about how these fit in the greater scheme of thing. This is the holographic paradigm: any reality is contingent to a higher degree of information organization. This notion, without surprise, has also attracted the attention of those mystically minded, as it implies that there is a higher realm of reality “managing” reality at a lower level. The full notice is:

Wilber, Ken (Ed.). (1985). The Holographic Paradigm: Exploring the leading edge of science. Boston: Shambala.

The Holographic Paradigm and social sciences

The book provides input from various people (including one social scientist) but without making any references to the knowledge produced by the social sciences. Once more we have a “leading edge science” book where psychology, physics and philosophy are used to support the argument for a new look at the world, but without using sociology and its sister sciences. It is very regrettable because the holographic paradigm has been part of the social sciences since day one, although described under a different vocabulary. People are not just people. They belong to higher orders of information structuring by their gender, ethnic origin, language, social class, level of education, etc. This is so obvious to any social scientist that one is wondering where the big fuss is.

For instance, qualitative social scientists, and for that matter any good management consultant, know that you do not need to interview everyone in a community or an organization to get a good understanding of what is going on. Only a few well selected people usually will do. Why? Because people also carry information about how life is structured in a community or organization (who is the boss, who holds the power, the key histories or narratives one needs to know to be part of the group, what’s in and what’s out, etc, etc , etc). Human communities are holographic. Sociologists know quite well that the social realm is a higher degree of structuring information that can be accessed by sampling enough individual about it. The Holographic Paradigm is actually old news for the social scientists. Maybe that’s why they were ignored, as they would remove the “edge” to the news. To be fair, however, there was a “fad” in the 1980s and 1990s in the social sciences about studying the social realm through the vocabulary of the holographic paradigm. For what I can assess, this has not gain much traction, probably because, in the end, it is old wine in a new bottle.

The Holographic Paradigm and parapsychology

In the book, there is, unfortunately, only one and very short text from Stanley Krippner dealing directly with the impact of the Holographic Paradigm on parapsychology. It would have been good to get a more extensive reaction from Krippner and the parapsychological community. In any event, the notion that the universe is holographic is certainly a useful one for parapsychologists. This notion is very much in tune with the Jungian concept of “Absolute Knowledge” and the Laszlo’s notion of Akashic field, speculating that knowledge exists in other forms, free of time and physical constraints, which can be access through ESP. Similarly, the introduction of a notion of higher order of information structuring can help to explain various time paradoxes found in parapsychological experiments, especially for retro-psychokinesis. But as parapsychology depends very much on positivist recognition from the institutional scientific community, the holographic paradigm remains very difficult to verify empirically. If it is possible to make a sound argument about the holographic nature of the brain, quantum physics, and the social realm that does not mean that the rest of the universe is holographic. That is where parapsychology stands on this issue for the time being; an interesting but hard to test idea.

The Holographic Paradigm and parasociology

Parasociology, as an attempt to fuse parapsychology and sociology together, is in mixed position with regards to the Holographic Paradigm. Societies can be easily described as hologram, as discussed above, but to really use the holographic approach to its fullest extent, one has to stipulate some sort of meta-social hologram. According to the theory, this meta-social hologram would be one degree (or dimension) higher in terms of abstraction, away from the empirically observable social realm, that describes another level of information structuring. To me, this sounds very much as a re-description of the notion of social unconscious. The main difference, however, would be that by borrowing from parapsychology the social unconscious would become information also freed (or at least partially freed) from time and geographical constraints. This is an interesting idea, but yet again this not that new. The parasociological notion of social unconscious is partly built on Jung’s concept of collective unconscious, which is explicitly described by Jung as timeless and unconcerned with geography. All in all, it is still old wine in a new bottle. Furthermore, the possibility of empirical verification is not improved by using the holographic approach. Ultimately, the holographic paradigm adds weight to the possibility that such an approach may explain many aspects of reality because it is found in different realms (biology, physics, social sciences), but it is still quite far from becoming a theory of everything.

Concluding remarks

Brain cells, and photons going through a splitter, are relatively simple carriers of information, and using a holographic approach to reconstruct how they fit in a larger scheme is certainly an effective approach. But what about complex datum, like a single human being, who has so many possible “tags” to so many possible larger psycho-social constructs? This is simply not very effective, and ultimately (strangely) it is a very reductionist approach – something the Holographic Paradigm claims to steer away from.

From a parasociological perspective, UFO events are like any other human events: they are composite events. The symbolic, psychical, emotional, social and physical forces at play to create such events are difficult to distinguish from each other. Furthermore, it may not be useful to distinguish them in a detailed way because we may loose from sight the “tag” that links qualitatively different realities together (e.g., the social unconscious and balls of light). Holographic thinking, in the end, is very much an expression of mathematical thinking where everything can be reduced to numbers (qualitative unification). Unfortunately, reality cannot be unified this way as qualitatively different realities cannot be subsumed into each other. All those who tried such qualitative unification have failed, and the Holographic Paradigm is very likely to face the same end if it does not steer away from mathematical thinking.

Eric Ouellet © 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

The 'C' Influence collective blog

This is a short post to announce that I am also participating to the new collective blog entitled "The 'C' influence". This blog has a more philosophical flavour, but it is fully about understanding various aspects and dimensions of the paranormal. The UFO theme will be specifically addressed at some point. There is a link to the site on the side bar, and here below. I hope readers will enjoy this new blog as well.

The 'C' influence

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The parasociological hypothesis in a nutshell

Here is a short post where I am trying to summarize my efforts to make sense of what parasociology is all about.


I am also taking a break for the month of July, and I wish everyone a good and safe summer.


Parasociology is mostly about studying and understanding the sociological dimension of anomalous phenomenon, by integrating the concept of psi within its core analysis. Hence, it is starting from the key findings of parapsychology, but aims at extending them outside the realm of individual psychology. Below is a short description of the parasociological hypothesis.

At the individual level, parapsychologists who have studied spontaneous paranormal cases tend to think that there are mutual interactions between the subject (experiencer) and the phenomenon. For instance, in the case of poltergeists (RSPK), people are seriously impacted by the disturbances and oftentimes ascribe the phenomenon to an “evil spirit” or some sort of non-human entity. Yet, it is pretty clear that the main person around whom the phenomenon is occurring is influencing its nature, namely his/her deeply buried anger and frustration appear to be what gives the phenomenon its violent character. It can be graphically represented as follow:

At the social level, sociologists who have studied controversies, which includes paranormal claims, have found that such events put in motion a social dynamics where the meaning attached to the phenomenon is debated, and usually determined by the social and political status of the key actors involved, and by the existing social and cultural pre-dispositions. For instance, the case of cold fusion was determined by the scientific establishment as a hoax, while in fact there was something like cold fusion going on, but at a very low level. In the paranormal world, the children who saw the “lady” in Fatima did not know what to think of it at first. But through various social dynamics involving a debate between the Church and the republican lay authorities, it was deemed to be the Virgin Mary who appeared to the children. Hence, the phenomenon impacted social dynamics already occurring in the Portuguese society of 1917.

The question is whether there is a parallel to be made with the individual level, where society would also influence the shape of the phenomenon, so that the interaction is also mutual at the sociological level? For instance, during the 1896-97 airship wave in United States (and Canada), the phenomenon was first described as strange lights in the sky, but it was reported by the press, nationwide, as “airships”. Could the social expectations to see an airship in the sky influenced the phenomenon so that it took an airship shape in the days and months that ensued? This question illustrates the core of the parasociological hypothesis. Graphically, it looks like this:

If one accepts that the parasociological hypothesis is a valid field of inquiry, then one should also look into the possibility of mutual interactions between the individual and sociological levels. Some of those interactions, in fact, have been studied already. For instance, the individual-level reactions to a poltergeist outbreak can create social debates in a society about what is the “true” nature of paranormal events. Conversely, if in a particular society some views about the paranormal are already accepted, then it is likely to impact the individual reactions. The clear case is the one of Marian apparitions, which tend to occur among Catholic communities. Strange and bizarre events, which meaning is not that clear to the witnesses, will eventually become interpreted as Marian apparitions because of strong cultural views about such apparitions.

Another set of interactions that should be investigated out of the parasociological hypothesis is the possible mutual interactions between the individual and social layers of a phenomenon. For instance, how an individual UFO close encounter relates to an overall UFO wave occurring at the same time? Or, how a set of Marian apparitions to a few children relate to a series of anomalous lights and healing in the community around? How a particular haunting relates to an overall high rate of hauntings in a particular region (England and Scotland)? These challenging questions have received little attention so far by researchers interested in the paranormal. Graphically, this can be represented as follow, with the dotted lines showing relationships requiring some serious conceptualisation and empirical research:

It is also possible to think of other mutual interactions. For instance, can the particular shape an individual-level anomalous phenomenon have a direct impact on the social dynamics about the interpretation of an anomalous phenomenon ? Landmark cases like the Barney and Bettey Hill UFO abduction incident clearly had an impact on how UFO abductions are construed socially later on. But what about the interaction in the other direction? For instance, could the extra-terrestrial “flavour” and shape of a close encounter be determined by socially shared views about extra-terrestrial visitations and not by the individual psychological make-up and dynamics of the experiencer? This question is at the center of the debate between the French Bertrand Méheust and François Favre about whether we have UFO witnesses of a relatively objective (i.e. of a social origin) parapsychological phenomenon or do we have only “psi subjects” living and influencing directly the phenomenon’s shape. There is very limited research on this issue.

The last set of mutual interactions, between a social-scale phenomenon and individual psychological make-up and dynamics, is also split in terms of research. The impact of those large phenomena on individuals has been studied by people like Jacques Vallée in his seminal book Messengers of Deception. UFO wave can have an impact on UFO-related cults and their capacity to recruit new members. Similarly, Marian apparitions led oftentimes to create religious fervour among people who had little interest in religion before the events. If the relationship is taken in the other direction, could it be possible that the individual psychological make-up and dynamics of some individuals have a defining impact on the shape of a social-scale anomalous phenomenon? For instance, in one of my researches on the Canadian UFO wave of 1966-67, there are some indications that the phenomenon was “responding” to a major politician’s series of key decisions, which were to have a very significant impact on the Canadian society but could not have been known at the time the phenomeon was unfolding. This is another area requiring much more investigation.

The overall parasociological hypothesis creates a relatively specific research programme, enough to keep many people busy for a long time. Graphically, it can be represented by all the dotted arrows shown below:

Eric Ouellet © 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Canadian UFO wave 1966-67 (part 5)

This post proposes an analysis of the remainding clusters of sightings identified earlier for the Canadian UFO wave of 1966-67. It is also the last part of this case study. However, I am introducing the clusters in a somewhat different perspective than previously announced, as I found an unanticipated consistency within the best-known cases of Falcon Lake, Duhamel crop circles, and Shag Harbour. These three cases will be considered as part of the same cluster, the reason for which is explained below. Hence, this post is covering the rash of closer encounters of the third kind of summer 1967 and the best-know cases lumped into the label the “National Tensions.” An overall evaluation of the case study is proposed at the end of this post.

The summer 1967 “visitations” cluster

Between the end of July and late August 1967, six closer encounters of the third kind (CE3) were reported by the private observation system. Given the rarity of CE3 in general, this concentration is unusual and can be seen as a form of “insistence” by the phenomenon to be “noted”. The basic information on the sightings is as follow:

(1) At the end of July, in St-Stanislas-de-Kostka, Quebec, an “11-year old Denis Léger said a flying object, ‘resembling a round and shiny saucer,’ followed him for about 5 minutes, at 20-foot altitude, as he rode his bicycle. The bottom was made of glass 3 or 4 inches thick, and he could see three persons inside, one seated at one end and the others at the other. ‘They were small and black.’”[1]

(2) On 12 August, in St-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick, a “dozen teens saw ‘huge, black monster’ descend from light craft in woods. Being dressed in black, with black face and goggles. They didn't approach, and it quickly disappeared.”[2]

(3) On 14 August 1967, in St-Charles, New Brunswick, “an unidentified woman from St Charles reported sighting a similar figure [to that of St-Louis-de-Kent] in the woods near the same road. Richibucto RCMP searched the area although they located a man dressed in black; there was no apparent connection with the encounters.[3]

(4) On 15 August 1967, in Port Perry, Ontario “a farm area a young boy heard a loud oscillating sound, going over a nearby hill he saw a landed disc shaped craft on four metallic legs, it was actually hovering just above the ground. On a platform around its perimeter, were seated eight to ten little men about three-foot tall, they wore tight fitting brown clothing. A depressed 12-foot circular area was found on the ground later.”[4]

(5) On 15 August, in Welland, Ontario, a “family observed two bright lights traveling across the sky, through a pair of binoculars several figures could be seen moving in one of the lights. Both lights flew at high speed away from the area. No other information.”[5]

(6) On 23 August, in Joyceville, Ontario, while “driving from his home in Toronto early in the morning, Stanley Moxon saw a green light in a field off the road ahead of his car; he turned off his headlights and swung onto a side road to get closer. Turning his lights on again, he saw a huge craft shaped like two saucers put together, and two human like entities about 4-feet high in white uniforms and helmets. They "seemed to be at work around the machine;" when they were discovered, they quickly jumped into the object, which took off silently at tremendous speed.”[6]

Taken together, these reports seem unrelated and unexplainable. As well, as there is only scant information about each of them, it is difficult to make a detailed analysis. Yet, if one looks beyond the surface, there are a number of commonalities. All the reporting was to stay local. In cases 1, 2, 4, 5, children were involved, and given the inherent bias against younger witnesses, these cases were not likely to reach the public observation system. In the cases 3, and 6, it was reported by adults who had the reflex to seek the local police (note that the RCMP plays the role of the local police in rural areas of New Brunswick, as part of an agreement between the province and the federal government), and these local police forces have little to do with the national public observation system. From a parasociological standpoint, this is an important clue as the phenomenon did not appear to seek the attention of the larger society. Furthermore, the possibility to even observe a CE3 cluster was not possible then. One case surfaced in 1968, and two others surfaced in 1979.

It is therefore possible to think that separate local parasociological effects could be held responsible for those events, but that they shared a common enabling factor or factors. From a symbolic perspective, there is an idea of “children” inherent to these sightings. In 3 cases, the entities were perceived as being of child-size (1, 4, 6). The sighting (1) was followed by another one, a year later by the same witness plus other children.[7] In most cases, the entities did not engaged with the witnesses but were either scared or oblivious to presence of witnesses (child-like behaviour?). Could the “Flower Children” of the “Summer of Love” (i.e. 1967) enabled symbolically some parasociological effects? It is impossible to prove but it is an interesting possibility.

The 1967 national tensions cluster

The three most ostentatious cases from the Canadian UFO wave of 1966-67 occurred in 1967. They are, in chronologically order, the Falcon Lake incident of 20 May, the Duhamel crop circles of 8 August, and the Shag Harbour “crash” on 4 October. When the Department of National Defence (DND) got rid of its UFO files by transferring them to the National Research Council (NRC), these three cases were specifically highlighted in a November 1967 letter as meriting particular attention, and that DND would like to be kept abreast of any findings by the NRC.[8] Clearly, the phenomenon was able to get the attention of the public observation system.

Once again, we have three cases that on the surface seem to be disconnected, and unrelated. When taken in isolation and separately, they seem profoundly absurd and meaningless. Although these cases were better investigated than most other cases of 1966-67 because the public observation system stepped in, nothing worth of mention emerged from their analysis. Yet, if one applies a parasociological analysis, then a different image emerges that is actually consistent with the other clusters reported by the public observation system: Canadian national tensions are symbolically found across these cases.

Falcon Lake incident

The details of this incident are available through many sources, but here is a copy of the synopsis prepared by DND in its letter to the NRC:

“A Mr Steven Michalak of Winnipeg, Manitoba reported that he had come into physical contact with a UFO during a prospecting trip in the Falcon Lake area, some 90 miles east of Winnipeg on the 20 May 1967. Mr. Michalak stated that he was examining a rock formation when two UFOs appeared before him. One of the UFOs remained airborne in the immediate area for a few moments, then flow off at great speed. The second UFO landed a few hundred feet away from his position. As he approached the UFO, a side door opened and voices were heard from within. Mr. Michalak stated that he approached the object but was unable to see due to a bright yellow bluish light which blocked his vision. He endeavoured to communicate with the personnel inside the object but without result. As he approached within a few feet of the object, the door closed, he heard a whining noise and the object commenced to rotate anti-clockwise and finally rained off the ground. He reached out with his left gloved hand and touched the object prior to its lifting off the ground; the glove burned immediately as he touched the object. As the object left the ground, the exhaust gases burned his cap, out and inner garments and he sustained rather severe stomach and chest burns. As a result of these he was hospitalized for a number of days. The doctors who interviewed and attended Mr. Michalak were unable to obtain any information that could account for the burns to his body. The personal items of clothing which were alleged to have been burned by the UFO were subjected to an extensive analysis at the SCNF Crime Laboratory. The analysis was not able to reach any conclusion as to what may have caused the burn damage. Soil samples taken from the immediate area occupied by the UFO by Mr. Michalak were analyzed and found to be radioactive to a degree that the samples had to be safely disposed of. An examination of the alleged UFO landing area was tested by a radiologist from the Department of Health and Welfare and a small area was found radioactive. The radiologist was unable to provide an explanation as to what caused this area to become contaminated.
Both DND and RCMP investigation teams were unable to provide evidence which would dispute Mr. Michalak’s story.”[9]

A few more elements emerged from the private observation system. A 1968 analysis and a 1979 re-evaluation showed that the radioactive contamination was likely from natural uranium ore and associated radon gas emanations.[10]

From a symbolic perspective this events has several clues to offer. First of all, the location is an interesting one. Falcon Lake was named after Pierre Falcon, a French-speaking poet of Métis origin who lived in the 19th century (1793-1876). The Métis people were made of people having both European (mostly French) and North American Native ancestry. They lived in Western Canada, mostly in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Their history is a sad one, as they were victim of the racist attitudes of the British authorities, and many got their land confiscated to be given to British settlers. They defended themselves in several occasions but were defeated by the British Army and the white settlers. As well, the French-speaking heritage disappeared overtime, to become almost fully anglicized. Pierre Falcon actually wrote songs and poem describing the fight against the English-speaking settlers and the injustice the Métis people were facing.[11]

There are other symbolic clues in the events. Michalak did meet people speaking a language that he did not understand. He was burnt in the forest, which is actually how Pierre Falcon described his compatriots the “Bois-Brûlé”.[12] Radioactivity was not known in the 19th century, so this clue might be a bit more subtle. In the 1960s, they were no uranium mining in Manitoba. The closest ones were in Northern Saskatchewan, and in Ontario in Elliot Lake, all far away from Flacon Lake.[13] Elliott Lake was a key uranium mining town then, and was another mixed French-English community of Northern Ontario. Finally, it is worth noting that on 19 May 1967, the Premier of Quebec, Daniel Johnson, came back from an official visit from France, where he was received as a Head of State[14], a prelude the famous “Vive le Québec libre!” of De Gaulle a few weeks later.

Duhamel crop circles

In 1967, crop circles were a novelty. The association between UFOs and crop circles is not a new one, as there was the notion of “saucer’s nest” in the 1950s from some US UFO investigations. But it was something quite different for Canada then. The event was considered as UFo one because “For several weeks before the crop circles appeared, Duhamel been plagued with strange occurrences. Reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) had made it into the local papers weeks before the crop circles were discovered.”[15] The official synopsis describes the events as follow:

“On August 8th 1967, a Mr. K. Patrige, of Camrose, Alberta, reported the finding of a number of circular impressions in a pasture in the vicinity of the town of Camrose, Alberta. An investigation was conducted by an officer from Canadian Forces Base, Edmonton, in the company of Dr. G. H. Jones, of the Defence Research Board Experimental Station in Suffield.
All the marks exhibited the same general appearance; a ring six inches in width, with diameter varying from slightly over 31 feet to 36 feet. No evidence of heat was evident, but a definite impression in the ground, which was soft from recent rains, indicated distinct pressure. Some slight evidence of movement in a radial manner along the marks was visible in that the grass had been pressed down in a definite direction.
No evidence that would lead to the conclusion of deliberate interference or involvement of any person was found, nor was there any trace of chemical or radioactivity in the area.”[16]

This noted UFO incident is also linked symbolically to the Métis people. It was a Métis settlement in 19th century, originally called “La Boucane”, named after the first Métis settlers, and renamed after the French-Canadian Roman Catholic Bishop of Ottawa Mgr. Duhamel.[17] Like a crop circle, they left their mark, but soon it will disappear both physically and from memory.

Veronica Laboucane and Jean Baptiste Laboucane, Duhamel, Alberta, circa 1912

The official 1967 report does not mention Duhamel, and interestingly the Wikipedia site for Duhamel does not mention its French and Métis origin.[18] They have effectively “disappeared” from mainstream history.

A key document that emerged recently was a draft letter signed 2 August 1967 by René Lévesque announcing his resignation from the Liberal Party of Quebec to the then leader of the Party, which would eventually occur on 14 October 1967 and set in motion a series of major events in Canada (as discussed in the previous post). A paragraph in this letter is highly symbolic and could have been applied very well to the Métis of Duhamel:

“C’est bien ainsi que l’ont compris tous ceux qui ne nous aiment pas. Il y en a un grand nombre au Canada, même parmi nous, de ces gens qui endurent les Canadiens français à condition qu’ils soient bien sages, qu’ils ne se prennent pas pour «d’autres» et qu’ils confirment périodiquement l’image rassurante qu’on s’acharne à se faire d’eux: la pittoresque survivance indigène appelée tôt ou tard à se perdre gentiment dans le paysage."[19]

[It is in this way that those who do not like us have understood it. There are many people in Canada, even among us, who tolerate the French-Canadians only at the condition that they be quiet, that they do not think they are important, and that they confirm periodically the reassuring picture painted of them: this picturesque survival of indigenous people called, sooner or later, to gently disappear from the scenery] (My translation).

The Shag Harbour “crash”

The Shag Harbour case is arguably the best known UFO case from Canada. It has been dubbed by some as the “Canadian Roswell,”[20] and the case was among those under evaluation during the Condon committee’s investigation. This case also attracted the attention of both the public and private observation systems, as it was so ostentatious. Here is the official description of the events:

“An RCMP corporal and six other witnesses observed what they believed to be an unidentified flying object off the south-west coast of Nova Scotia, Canada on the 4th October 1967. The object was described as approximately 60 feet in length and was flying in an easterly direction when first sighted. During their observation, the UFO descended rapidly to the surface and made a ‘bright splash’ as it struck the water. For some time after the impact, a single white light remained on the surface. The RCMP corporal endeavoured to the floating white object, but unfortunately, before he could reach the location the object sank. A search of the area failed to produce any material evidence which could assist in explaining or establishing the identity of the object. An underwater search conducted by divers from the Department of National Defence also failed to locate any tangible evidence which could be used to arrive at an explainable conclusion.”[21]

The public observation system was also able to add to this description. In the evening of 4 October 1967, the pilots of an Air Canada liner Saint-Jean in Quebec (south-east of Montreal) saw the following event, as reported later to the authorities: “Flying on top of layered clouds, well below us. The Captain drew my attention to an unusual set of lights to the south. One large bright white light and six small ones. It looks like a large kite about 20 deg. above the horizon at 90 degs from the aircraft. While we were looking at this set of lights we saw a big fire ball that started as a very bright white light and grew into a large red ball. It then turn violet in color, then light blue. We saw two of these. I checked the clock. The first one was at 19:19 EDT the second at 19:31 EDT. At 19:35 EDT one large pear shape cloud glowing pale blue was drifting slowly eastward.”[22]

As well, the private system was able to get the following additional details[23]. According to Ledger and Styles, several witnesses in the area around Halifax saw strange lights moving towards the southwest along the coast, between 21:00 ADT until 23:00 ADT. Then observations moved to Lunenburg, and then Waymouth, to finally have the last observations around Shag Harbour[24]. A very interesting report made by several witnesses described the descent into water of several objects as a “falling-leaf motion” from the Cape Sable Island[25].

This last observation is particular interesting as it is a motion noted in a number of poltergeist events. But even more interesting is that not only the overall event started in Quebec, the French-speaking province of Canada, 10 days before René Lévesque’s critical political move, but it occurred in another area of past French-English tensions. The Cape Sable Island was also the point of departure of several deportation ships, bringing in harsh conditions the French-speaking Acadiens away from their land, so that English settlers can have them.[26]

Symbolically, we have something emanating from Quebec and showing the color blue in the sky (blue being the color associated with the movement seeking the independence of Quebec), that sinks into the sea in a place where British cruelty towards the French-Canadians has been enacted by sending people to their lost by sea. The fact that an agent of the state witnessed it is also indicative that the phenomenon was seeking the attention of the public observation system. As well, it “crashed” near one of the nods of the underwater submarine detection network, put in place in the context of the Cold War against Soviet intrusions. The phenomenon “took no chance”, it had to be noted by the public authorities, and like in any macro psi event, when observation becomes too intense, the phenomenon does not have any indeterminacy to keep going. The Shag Harbour incident marks the decline phase of the 1966-67 Canadian UFO wave. As well, like in most RSPK (or poltergeist) events, those for whom the message is intended did not understand it.


This parasociological analysis of the Canadian 1966-1967 UFO wave was quite instructive. First, it provided an analysis with a fair degree of internal validity that some of the key events can be explained as social psi effects linked to the deep tensions found in the Canadian society then. The concordance between geographic locations, dates of UFO events, and dates of significant social events with the key symbolism found within particular cases is striking. These cases, when taken alone do not make sense, but when they are linked together within a proper analytical framework, they start to make sense. It would be interesting to do a similar analysis of the American UFO wave of 1966-67 and linked it to the many racial riots and tensions experienced in 1966 and especially in 1967. However, I think it is a task for an American researcher to do.

When thinking about the UFO events related to the national level, and therefore noted by the public observation system, I cannot help but making the comparison with the seminal and in-depth research conducted by Nandor Fodor about the Thornton Heath poltergeist.[27] Like with the UFO wave of 1966-67, the strange and bizarre events surrounding Mrs. Forbes were incomprehensible, absurd, and beyond explanation, even to dedicated and experienced psychical researchers. Fodor went further and looked where no one else bothered to investigate. Not only he gathered evidence and evaluated them, but he also proposed an analysis based on the symbolic content of those poltergeist events. Through a detailed symbolic review of the evidence he was able to make sense of what happened in Thornton Heath, as it was the symbolic expression of Mrs. Forbes’ unresolved trauma of being sexually abused when she was a child. From that perspective, UFO waves can be explained in part as of a macroscopic poltergeist, as John Keel believed. The only difference is that we, the humans, are the ultimate cause of the events.

The events that were noted by the private observation systems are much more difficult to interpret, in great part because they were not approached from the “broader” perspective, leaving very little data to work with. Some were investigated in more depth, but with the passing of time, such information can become extremely difficult to find. In some cases, like the APRO reports, the evidence is locked up into private hands not willing to share them. Furthermore, if these sightings were intended to be observed by the private system, then the message should logically be intended to a private audience, making the investigation that much harder as one has to get detailed knowledge of local unconscious issues.

It is important to underline that there are many sightings of the 1966-67 wave that are beyond any meaningful research because they were likely to be meaningful only to the witnesses themselves. Again, with the passing of time, and limited reporting content this becomes an impossible task. Some other sightings are likely to be misperceptions and hoaxes, but too much time has elapse to make any valid evaluation on them. However, these others sightings (including hoaxes) could be seen as synchronistic events that participated in creating a social psi event by keeping the attention on the phenomenon..

UFO wave, to conclude, appear to have at least distinct four layers: the global, national, local and individual ones. Each of them deserve its own separate analysis as it carry its own distinct meaning, yet all of them can “ride” on the same macro psi effect at the same, creating a very confused picture. In the end, however, the key to make sense of all of them is to look seriously into their respective symbolic dimension. Hence, should there be another major UFO wave in North America (or elsewhere), we now have a more refined methodology about what we need to look for.


[1] From Itself based on Saucers, Space & Science, fall 1968.

[2] From based on a newspaper article from the Moncton Times, August 17, 1967.

[3] From A RCMP police report is quoted as the original source.

[4] From John Brent Musgrave. (1979). UFO occupants and critters: The patterns in Canada. N.L.: Global Communications, is quoted as the source, but Musgrave does not provide his own sources. See

[5] Same as reference 4.

[6] From Itself based on a local police report, and was investigated by APRO. The APRO report is likely to be unavailable for further information.

[7] See

[8] See

[9] Original available at

[10] Rutkowski, Chris and Geoff Dittman. (2006). The Canadian UFO Report: The best cases revealed‎. Toronto: Dundurn Press, p. 77.

[11] See

[12] Idem.

[13] See

[14] See

[15] See

[16] Original available at

[17] Fro more see:;;

[18] See,_Alberta

[19] From

[20] Rutkowski, Chris and Geoff Dittman. (2006). The Canadian UFO Report: The best cases revealed‎. Toronto: Dundurn Press, p. 94.

[21] Original available at

[22] From Canada Archives, at

[23] For a detailed account of this case, please refer to Ledger, Don and Chris Styles. (2001). Dark Object: The world’s only government documented UFO crash. New York: Dell.

[24] Ledger, Don and Chris Styles. (2001). Dark Object: The world’s only government documented UFO crash. New York: Dell, pp. 13-27.

[25] From UFO DNA at

[26] For more information, please see; and

[27] Fodor, Nandor. (1958). On the Trail of the Poltergeist. New York: Citadel Press.

Eric Ouellet © 2010